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Hillier, Cheveldayoff discuss depth of talent ahead of 2019 NHL Draft

"Picking at 20, you're hoping to get a player that's 15 or 16 on your list." -Hillier

by Mitchell Clinton @MitchellClinton /

VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Draft week is always busy for Mark Hillier, but it could be argued this week is a little more so.

After all, one week ago, Hillier - the Director of Amateur Scouting for the Winnipeg Jets - didn't have the 20th overall pick.

But following Monday's trade with the New York Rangers, the Jets now have that selection and are making sure no stones are left unturned.

"We're looking at a new group of players there, a little higher in the draft," said Hillier, who sees a lot of talent in the 2019 NHL Draft class.

"You don't really realize that until you're working through your list and you're seeing players that are 25, 30, 40 on your list that are still really good players that you'll get later in the draft," he said. "Picking at 20, you're hoping to get a player that's 15 or 16 on your list."

Following February's trade deadline, the Jets had four picks remaining for this weekend's draft in Vancouver. Since the end of the season, General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has made two trades - the negotiating rights to (at the time) pending unrestricted free agent Kevin Hayes to the Philadelphia Flyers for a fifth round pick, and Jacob Trouba to the New York Rangers in exchange for defenceman Neal Pionk and the 20th overall pick in this year's draft.

All of a sudden, the Jets were up to the six picks they currently have.

"When we made the trade at the trade deadline to trade out of the first round, I was very specific with the guys 'Don't read into the draft pick situations we're in right now,'" said Cheveldayoff. "We at that point in time knew we were going to have to make some tough decisions. Given the way the salary cap is, we knew the future side of it, the draft pick component was going to have to be a big part of it."

The final meetings for the team's amateur scouts took place in Winnipeg back in May. That's when all the players are ranked based on the input from the entire scouting staff, but nothing is ever final.

"Each full-time scout goes to over 200 games through the year," said Hillier. "There's more information you gather, more interviews, combine testing, so there might be final tweaks. All that work goes into those final meetings and there's not much change that comes after that."

NHL Central Scouting's rankings have American centre Jack Hughes as the top North American skater available this weekend, with Finnish winger Kaapo Kakko seeded as the top International skater. 

While both of those players won't be available when the Jets come to the podium for the 20th pick, Cheveldayoff believes the draft will get real interesting and unpredictable when the Chicago Blackhawks make the third overall selection.

"There is a good balance of players I think that the scouts have passion for in that area," said Cheveldayoff. "You have a guy on your list another team may have him vastly different. There are always some surprises that come up and maybe you're the one that surprises everyone with your pick.

"You look at some of the players that are available at 20 and you look at some of the players in the past that were drafted at 20 and the contributions that they are making now within their organizations, we have a chance to get a really good player as well."

No decisions come easy, but that doesn't mean Cheveldayoff (at his ninth draft as Jets GM) doesn't enjoy everything that draft week has to offer.

"Everybody from hockey is here. You're all immersed in the here and now of the draft, but also the future of the teams," said Cheveldayoff. "It's exciting and it's busy."

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