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Jets interview 86 prospects throughout Combine week

Focus now turns to two days of prospect fitness testing

by Mitchell Clinton @MClinton007 /

Even though the Winnipeg Jets only have one first round pick in this month's NHL Draft in Chicago - compared to the two first round selections they've had in each of the last two Drafts - Kevin Cheveldayoff and his team kept a full workload at the NHL Combine.

The first prospect interview took place on Monday morning at 8:30 am, and now five days later, a total of 86 aspiring NHLers have been through the Winnipeg Jets suite at KeyBank Center.

"You try to keep it a little light-hearted so that the players aren't that nervous, and try to get a little bit more of their natural sense out of them," said Cheveldayoff. "Some of the interviews are much more laid back than others, but some of them, you will get a little more in-depth. If there's a fine-tuning thing or if something happened in a game you want to get a question answered on. It just depends.

"For us it's a chance to get everybody in one place and get a feel for it."

Over the course of those interviews, Director of Amateur Scouting Mark Hillier says the group speaks with a wide variety of players.

"There are some real pros that come in here. You don't have to ask them much. You ask them the first question and they keep talking for 20 minutes," he laughed. "There are others that are really shy and nervous. We just try to see if the player's personality off the ice meet the player's personality on the ice. Does he have a good idea of his game? Does he have a good understanding of what he does well and what he needs to work on down the road? Does he have a plan on how to work on the weaknesses that he has?"

All the work is in an effort to make the best possible selection when the Jets are on the clock with the 13th overall selection. It's a position the team has been in before.

Video: COMBINE | Kevin Cheveldayoff

Back in 2013 the Jets used that very pick to choose Josh Morrissey. The defenceman played his first full season in 2016-17, scoring six goals and accumulating 20 points after playing in all 82 games.

They key to making good selections at that point of the draft according to Cheveldayoff is expecting the unexpected.

"The hard part about 13 is you don't know the other 12 that go in front of you. You have to be prepared," said Cheveldayoff. "There might be a run on defensemen right before you, there might be a run on centre men right before you. You just don't know. You have to be ready for all things when you're drafting in that position."

That's why doing 86 interviews is so important, says Hillier, even if the research doesn't pay off immediately.

"We understand we're not going to draft all these players obviously," said Hillier. "But it's helpful for us down the road. We might acquire a player three or four years down the road, and at least we've made some contact with the player and got to know him a little bit."

As for the prospects, the final couple days of the Combine mean only one thing: fitness testing. The Y-Balance, Functional Movement Screen, Grip Strength, and VO2 Max tests were all held on Friday, with eight more tests set for Saturday.

Cheveldayoff says the Jets will have eyes on the HarborCenter floor when the testing continues at 7:30 ET Saturday morning.

"We bring our strength and conditioning people in to monitor that and give us a more professional opinion. We'll get all the results, we'll get all the comparisons," he said. "Sometimes you're just looking to see the frame of the player. Are they a person that you think is going to be able to add strength and muscle down the line. Or if they have skating issues, you want to look at what's the make-up of their leg. Can they get stronger? Can they get their core stronger? So those are the things you're looking at when you get a chance to see everybody in one place."

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