Zach Bogosian will be part of the Winnipeg Jets for a long time after signing a seven-year, $36 million contract this summer. What the Jets need now is for the 23-year-old defenseman to play up to that contract.
The Jets made sure the player the franchise took with the third pick in the 2008 NHL Draft wouldn't be going anywhere when they avoided arbitration by signing him for the long term. They made the commitment although Bogosian's career has been more promise than performance thus far.
In 297 NHL games, Bogosian has 34 goals, 103 points and a minus-42 rating; not bad, but nothing earth-shaking. He's never scored more than 10 goals in a season and has reached the 30-point level once (in 2011-12). Bogosian has missed 11 or more games with injuries in four of his five NHL seasons and played 33 of 48 games in 2012-13, when he finished with five goals and 14 points.
When he's been able to play, Bogosian has averaged more than 23 minutes a game in each of the past two seasons, and obviously the Jets are convinced there's plenty of additional potential to his game.
"Zach is still a very young player when it comes to defenseman age," general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said. "There is still a lot of room for his game to grow, and I think that's the exciting aspect. We have Zach locked up for what are the best years of a defenseman's career."
Bogosian has all the tools to be an elite NHL defenseman. He has good size (6-foot-3, 215 pounds), is an excellent skater who can move the puck, takes on the tough defensive assignments, and can contribute offensively. What he's lacked is the consistency to bring all of it together on an every-night basis.
The Jets decided his mix of skills, and the upside they offer, was worth the long-term commitment.
"He is someone that I really believe has a tremendous amount of untapped potential" Cheveldayoff said. "As he continues to mature as a player, he's going to blossom. His skating ability, his shot, his size, his work ethic, his physical strength; he is a young defenseman that for us is just going to continue to grow."
The long-term contract was one of three handed out by the Jets this summer, when management opted to keep the core of the team intact, even though the franchise hasn't made the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2007.
Like Bogosian, the Jets have been more potential than performance so far. He said he's glad to see the nucleus of the current group will get the chance to grow into a winning team together.
"Signing the guys that we did and getting the guys we did in free agency is obviously going to help," he said. "Every year we sit down and talk about our goals. Winning a championship and bringing the Cup to Winnipeg would be the No. 1 thing. Moving forward, we’re a better team right now. I’m just very excited to be there for the next seven years."
Bogosian, an American, was drafted by the Atlanta Thrashers before the franchise moved to Winnipeg two years ago. After going through a young defenseman's usual growing pains in Atlanta, coming to Winnipeg, a market that had been pining for an NHL team since the original Jets left in 1996 to become the Phoenix Coyotes, gave him a fresh start.
"I didn't exactly have the best start to my career in Atlanta, and obviously moving to Winnipeg gave me a new chance to play in a hockey market and hockey town," Bogosian said. "It was definitely a no-brainer for me to want to stay there for a long time."
Cheveldayoff said he expects Bogosian to develop into the kind of cornerstone defenseman the Jets can build around to become a winner, and that the long-term deal was a way of expressing that conviction.
“Zach is someone that we wanted to show our faith in," he said. "We know that as he continues to grow [as] a defenseman, his role and his leadership and all aspects of his game are going to help this team to get to the next level."