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Jets feel AHL success will help top prospects

by Patrick Williams / Winnipeg Jets

The managerial team of the Winnipeg Jets can take pride in the fact they've solidified a foundation of good, young talent by way of the NHL Draft.

The pipeline is brimming with blue-chip prospects ready to make their mark. Forward Mark Scheifele, a 2011 first-round pick (No. 7) and defenseman Jacob Trouba, the team's 2012 first-round pick (No. 9) are two recent top picks who've already established themselves.

"The goal once we came to Winnipeg was to try and increase the depth in the organization and I think [general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff] and the other management group have provided us with a lot of picks over the years and given us an opportunity to try and improve the depth and grow our organization from within," Jets director of amateur scouting Marcel Comeau told "That's the mantra [Cheveldayoff] has in place and that's what we're trying to do."

After making 30 picks at the past four drafts, Cheveldayoff should be pleased. The team's American Hockey League affiliate, the St. John's IceCaps, reached the Calder Cup Final last season before losing to the Texas Stars in five games. That team, coached by Keith McCambridge, was fortified with talent on both ends of the ice.

"It was extremely beneficial for our prospects to play high-caliber games, intense games, against good competition for a significant period [in the AHL playoffs]," Comeau said. "When the big team is not playing, the management is keeping a close eye on the prospects so they had a chance in front of the people who make the decisions to show what they have and how close they are. Because of that they'll probably earn themselves a longer look in training camp."

Here's a look at Winnipeg's top 10 prospects, according to

1. Joshua Morrissey, D

How acquired: 1st round (No. 13), 2013 draft

Last season: 59 GP, 28-45-73, Prince Albert, WHL

The 6-foot, 186-pound defenseman received invaluable experience with the IceCaps during their playoff run last season and contributed two goals and nine points in 20 postseason games. He served as captain for Prince Albert last season, his fourth in the WHL, and set career-highs in goals, assists and points. If Morrissey doesn't earn a roster spot for the Jets out of training camp, he will return to Prince Albert for one more season before turning pro. The Jets project the 19-year-old will be a top-four defensemen whenever he gets to the NHL.

"The thing that really stands out is his hockey IQ," Comeau said. "I think he really reads situations well offensively and defensively and has the ability to push the pace. He played in 20 AHL playoff games when the chips were on the line, so you know he's pretty close as a 19-year-old. Now it's up to him to push the envelope."

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

2. Adam Lowry, LW

How acquired: 3rd round (No. 67), 2011 draft

Last season: 64 GP, 17-16-33, St. John's, AHL

The 6-4, 187-pound Lowry was drafted as a left wing out of Swift Current in the Western Hockey League. But he was shifted to center the season after Winnipeg selected him, and the move has benefited both parties. The 21-year-old is the type of player a coach would have confidence in putting on the ice in any situation.

"I think everybody likes size and strength down the middle and we certainly think Adam brings that," Comeau said. "We like to have people who can play both ends of the rink. He's a good faceoff man and good penalty-killer."

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

3. Nikolaj Ehlers, LW

How acquired: 1st round (No. 9), 2014 draft

Last season: 63 GP, 49-55-104, Halifax, QMJHL

Before joining the Mooseheads, Ehlers spent time with Biel in Switzerland's top professional league and had Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks and Tyler Seguin of the Dallas Stars as teammates during the 2012-13 season. The 18-year-old had 11 goals and 28 points in 16 Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playoff games as a rookie last season in Halifax.

He might not be NHL-ready this season, but Comeau believes he isn't too far off.

"There's some really dynamic offensive upside there," he said. "This guy has big time speed and puck skill and we think he's one of those players who you know is going to make something happen whenever he gets the puck. He's not a big guy (5-11, 162), but we know he'll do what he can to make himself as strong as possible to compete against men at the next level."

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

4. Michael Hutchinson, G

How acquired: Trade (Boston Bruins), July 19, 2013

Last season: 24 GP, 17-5-1, 2.30 GAA, .923 SVP, St. John's, AHL

Hutchison (6-foot-3, 174 pounds), chosen by the Bruins with the No. 77 pick in the 2008 draft, was re-signed to a two-year contract July 2 and is in line to become the full-time backup to Ondrej Pavelec. He got a taste of the NHL last season, going 2-1-0 with a 1.64 goals-against average and .943 save percentage in three late-season starts. The 24-year-old then played 21 games (12-9) in the Calder Cup Playoffs and was exceptional with a 1.95 GAA, .938 save percentage and three shutouts to help the IceCaps reach the final.

"I think Michael's concentration level and rebound control are good," Comeau said. "He doesn't give up a lot of bad goals. He's a guy who's focused, limits his second chances and really does a good job of making the other team earn everything they get."

Projected NHL arrival: 2014-15

5. Ben Chiarot, D

How acquired: 4th round (No. 120), 2009 draft

Last season: 65 GP, 6-14-20, St. John's, AHL

The physically intimidating Chiarot (6-3, 215 pounds) had a strong AHL season and made his NHL debut in November. He had two goals and five points in 21 postseason games for the IceCaps, and agreed to terms on a one-year, two-way contract July 23. In 144 AHL games, the 23-year-old has eight goals, 34 points and 196 penalty minutes, all with St. John's.

"He's a big defenseman who can move the puck and give you some physical play in your own zone," Comeau said. "He's tough on people in the corners but can also handle team quickness."

Projected NHL arrival: 2014-15

6. Nicolas Petan, C

How acquired: 2nd round (No. 43), 2013 draft

Last season: 63 GP, 35-78-113, Portland, WHL

Despite his 5-9, 165-pound frame and being a focal point of the opposition each game, Petan continued to light up the scoreboard; he has 95 goals and 269 points in 198 WHL games. He also was fourth in scoring during the WHL playoffs last season with 28 points in 21 games to help Portland advance to the WHL final. He scored four goals and had five points in seven games for Canada at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship in Malmo, Sweden.

Petan, 19, is a prototypical puck-distributor, anticipates well and would work wonders on a power play.

"Some of the things he does on the ice just wow you," Comeau said. "He creates opportunities for himself and others. He doesn't play on the outside; he's in the battle all the time."

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

7. Connor Hellebuyck, G

How acquired: 5th round (No. 130), 2012 draft

Last season: 29 GP, 18-9-2, 1.79 GAA, .941 SVP, 6 SO, Massachusetts-Lowell, Hockey East

Hellebuyck, who will turn pro this season, went 5-3-0 in eight starts in March to lead the River Hawks to their second consecutive Hockey East tournament championship with back-to-back shutouts at TD Garden in Boston, and an appearance the Northeast Regional Final against Boston College. He made 30 saves in a 4-0 victory against the University of New Hampshire in the Hockey East championship game to earn MVP honors, becoming the first player to win the award twice. He also was the recipient of the first Mike Richter Award as the most outstanding goaltender the NCAA after leading the nation in goals-against average and save percentage in 2013-14.

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

8. J.C. Lipon, RW

How acquired: 3rd round (No. 91), 2013 draft

Last season: 72 GP, 9-32-41, St. John's, AHL

Lipon (6-foot, 183), 21, is quite effective in his role as an agitator. As a rookie for the IceCaps last season he had a team-high 136 penalty minutes but also proved his ability as a playmaker. He also is versatile, evidenced by the fact the right-shot forward played right and left wing in St. John's. He's projected as a bottom-six forward but could be an extremely valuable commodity in that role.

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

9. Scott Kosmachuk, RW

How acquired: 3rd round (No. 70), 2012 draft

Last season: 68 GP, 49-52-101, Guelph, OHL

Comeau said he feels fortunate the organization was able to get the 5-11, 185-pound right-handed shot in the third round two years ago; all he did in four OHL seasons with Guelph was pile up 120 goals and 246 points in 271 games. Kosmachuk, 20, also had 10 goals and 28 points in 20 playoff games to help the Storm win the OHL title and earn a berth in the Memorial Cup.

"He had an exceptional year in Guelph and was one of the key players all year," Comeau said. "He's worked himself up the lineup, and when we drafted him we thought he would be a top-nine [forward] rather than a top-six, but I think he's elevated his game so much at the major-junior level that we now view him as a player who can possibly play on your top two lines.

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

10. Eric Comrie, G

How acquired: 2nd round (No. 59), 2013 draft

Last season: 60 GP, 26-25-9, 2.57 GAA, .925 SVP, Tri-City, WHL

Comeau said Comrie (6-1, 167) is a solid candidate to represent Canada at the 2015 World Junior Championship in Montreal and Toronto in January. Getting that opportunity will enable him an opportunity to show how mentally strong he is in pressure situations.

The 19-year-old won a gold medal with Canada at the 2011 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup but sustained a hip injury that required season-ending surgery in February 2013 and delayed his development. He progressed well enough last season that he got into two AHL games.

"We really like his technique and work ethic and liked the way he always kept his team in the game," Comeau said. "He didn't really have strong teams in Tri-City the last couple of years but he's the kind of guy who battles and keeps you in the game every night. The injury situation is not an issue moving forward; he played in 60 games last season and had impressive numbers for team that wasn't strong."

Projected NHL arrival: 2017-18

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mikemorrealeNHL

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Author: Mike G. Morreale | Staff Writer

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