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In the System: Jets prospects at forward

Virtanen enjoys international success in 2018-19

by Mitchell Clinton @MitchellClinton /

There is a little over a month to go until the 2019 NHL Draft gets underway in Vancouver, BC and Winnipeg Jets General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and his team are deep into the process of putting together their list of prospects eligible to be selected on June 21 and 22.

One look at the Jets forwards shows how important those picks are. First Round picks like Mark Scheifele, Nikolaj Ehlers, Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor, and Jack Roslovic are key producers that had their names called by Cheveldayoff at the annual draft.

But while First Round picks are critical, selections in later rounds can be just as important. Andrew Copp and Adam Lowry, chosen in the 2013 and 2011 NHL Drafts respectively, are two-thirds of one of the best checking lines in the NHL.

Other selections like Kristian Vesalainen (2017 Draft) and Mason Appleton (2015 Draft) got their first taste of NHL experience in 2018-19 and look to take the next steps in their. Careers in 2019-20.

Here are a few more forwards that are in the Jets system that didn't play in the NHL or the American Hockey League this season.

David Gustafsson 

With their second-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, the Winnipeg Jets chose centre David Gustafsson, a 6'2" centre from Tingsryd, Sweden.

Gustafsson was coming off a 2017-18 season that saw him play in the Swedish Hockey League for HV71, where he scored six goals and added six assists in 45 games. It was his first season in Sweden's top league. 

In fact, by playing in his first SHL game on Sept. 16, 2017, he became the first player born in the year 2000 to play for HV71.

In 2018-19, Gustafsson played another 36 games in the SHL for HV71, scoring twice and finishing with 12 points in 36 games. 

He also represented his country at the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship, chipping in with three assists in five games, with Sweden finishing fifth in the tournament.

He has one season left on his contract with HV71, which will take him through the 2019-20 season.

Santeri Virtanen

The World Junior Hockey Championship may not have ended the way Gustafsson would have liked, but for Santeri Virtanen, it was everything he hoped it would be.

Virtanen, Winnipeg's fourth-round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, was part of the gold-medal winning Finland team.

It wasn't the first time Virtanen had earned a medal wearing Finnish colours. In 2016-17, he helped his country earn a silver medal at the World Under-18s. He scored twice and added four assists in seven games during that tournament.

In 2018-19, the 20-year-old centre played his first full season in the Finnish Liiga, scoring five goals and finishing with 10 points in 40 games.

Nathan Smith

At the 2018 NHL Draft, the Winnipeg Jets selected Smith in the third round (91st overall). The 6'0" centre from Tampa, FL spent his draft year with the USHL's Cedar Rapids RoughRiders, scoring 17 goals and registering 43 total points.

In 59 games with the Roughriders in 2018-19, Smith scored 18 goals to set a new career high - besting his mark of 17 the season before. He also added a new personal best in terms of assists with 35, giving him 53 points on the season - six more than he had in 2017-18.

The RoughRiders also made the playoffs this season, falling in four games in their best-of-five series with the Chicago Steel. Smith recorded an assist in the series (in Game 3).

The 20-year-old Smith is committed to Minnesota State University (Mankato) for the 2019-20 season. He finished his USHL career with 100 points (35 goals and 65 assists) in 110 games.

Pavel Kraskovsky

The 2018-19 season was Kraskovsky's fourth full season in the Kontinental Hockey league (though he has played parts of six seasons in the KHL).

He had one goal and three points in 26 games this season, then added another three points in nine playoff games.

In his KHL career, the 22-year-old Kraskovsky (Winnipeg's sixth-round selection in the 2014 NHL Draft) has 15 goals and 37 points in 188 career games.

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