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Kovacevic proud to wear Jets colours

Merrimack College defenceman chosen 74th overall

by Mitchell Clinton @MClinton007 /

CHICAGO, IL - Johnathan Kovacevic is listed at 6'3" and 220 pounds at the age of 19, but he believes he's still got some filling out to do before he's ready to play at the NHL level.

Though if he's being honest, he's not sure the 220 is accurate.

"That might have been from a couple years ago," the newly minted third round pick of the Winnipeg Jets grinned. "If it was a 220, it wasn't a good 220. Right now I'm around 212 or 213."

The smile never left Kovacevic's face following his selection at the United Center. The fact the defenceman was chosen 74th overall by Winnipeg made it even sweeter.

"Words can't even describe it. It's such an up and coming organization. To be a part of it, it's a huge honour," said the Grimsby, ON native, who even with his build, might be on the smaller end of the Jets defensive depth chart.

Tyler Myers and 2016 first round pick Logan Stanley are 6'7". Dustin Byfuglien is 6'5", and that's saying nothing of Dylan Samberg, who the Jets took in the second round. He stands at 6'4".

"It's definitely something I'm not used to," said Kovacevic. "They do like their big defencemen so hopefully I can fit in there."

Kovacevic was one of four defencemen the Jets took on Saturday. Along with Samberg (Hermantown high school), Winnipeg also chose Leon Gawanke (Cape Breton, QMJHL) and Croix Evingson (Shreveport, NAHL).

"It's a very tough position to have depth because it develops at a very slow rate - it takes a long time to develop a defenceman," said general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff. "When they fall into your spots that you're drafting that you feel comfortable in taking them - you do it."

"It wasn't so much targeted for size but it did happen in that way. But players (Samberg and Kovacevic) that have some development path in front of them that we think are going to develop nicely and again - play the game the way the game needs to be played right now."

Video: DRAFT | Kovacevic 1-on-1

Director of Amateur Scouting, Mark Hillier, said Kovacevic has come a long way over the course of the season. Go back to 2013, when Kovacevic was drafted by the Niagara IceDogs in the 12th round of the OHL Draft, and the improvement only becomes more evident.

"(He) actually went to an OHL camp a couple of years ago and didn't make it so he went down to Merrimack College," said Hillier. "His game is just starting come into his own and we think there is good things to come from him… He's got good agility and mobility for a defenceman. It's hard to rate his speed on defence but the agility and feet are really good for a big man."

Kovacevic scored three goals and added 16 assists in 36 games over the course of his freshman season at Merrimack, a season he describes as a learning experience.

Video: DRAFT | Kovacevic scrum

"Coming in freshman year, I wasn't too sure what to expect. So the coaches gave me so many developmental opportunities. They really had confidence in me," he said. "It was a big jump. The college guys, some of them are 25-years-old, so they're men and you're playing against them… The college level is preparing guys to make that next step."

Over the course of that season, Kovacevic chatted with Max Giese - Winnipeg's scout in the region Kovacevic plays - on numerous occasions.

"(He) was high on me and (was) such a great guy with me all year," said Kovacevic. "I was hoping before the Draft to be a Jet. I couldn't be happier right now."

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