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NHL.com's 30 in 30: Jets' top prospects

by Patrick Williams / Winnipeg Jets

 

 

NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 30 teams throughout August.

 

Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has never wavered from his draft-and-develop mantra, no matter how strong the temptation and pressure to accelerate Winnipeg's growth process has been.

The Jets have steadily gone about the slow process of restocking their organizational depth through the NHL Draft and following that on the developmental side with an emphasis on youth in the American Hockey League.

It's starting to pay off for Winnipeg, which boasts one of the deepest farm systems in the NHL.

Here are the Jets' top five prospects, according to NHL.com:

1. Patrik Laine , RW

 

 

How acquired: Selected with No. 2 pick of 2016 NHL Draft

 

Last season: Tappara (Liiga): 46 GP, 17-16-33

Laine helped Tappara to the Liiga championship in Finland with 10 goals and 15 points in 18 playoff games and won the Jari Kurri Award as the top player in the playoffs. He finished the season by also winning the league's Rookie of the Year award.

Laine, 18, also excelled in international play, winning most valuable player honors at the 2016 IIHF World Championship in Russia, where Finland won a silver medal. He had seven goals and 12 points to lead all players. Laine also had seven goals and 13 points to help Finland win gold at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship.

"The first thing that you get from him is that he is really happy to be here," coach Paul Maurice told the Jets website. "He's so excited."

Laine (6-foot-5, 206 pounds) should be excited. Along with one of the best one-timers in the game, he instantly projects as a top-six forward for the Jets, possibly playing with veteran center Bryan Little . He could be a dramatic boost for a power play that has struggled.

Projected NHL arrival: This season

2. Connor Hellebuyck, G

 

 

How acquired: Selected with No. 130 pick of 2012 NHL Draft

 

Last season: Winnipeg: 26 GP, 13-11-1, 2.34 GAA, .918 SV%; Manitoba (AHL): 30 GP, 13-15-1, 2.49 GAA, .922 SV%

Hellebuyck's developmental curve accelerated last season after No. 1 goaltender Ondrej Pavelec injured his knee in November. Hellebuyck (6-4, 207) quickly claimed the starting job from Michael Hutchinson and showed he was able to take on a heavy NHL workload for nearly three months.

Winnipeg's goaltending picture remains in flux with Pavelec entering the final year of his contract and Hutchinson pushing for time as well. Hellebuyck, 23, is capable of pushing Pavelec for time and could be the Jets' top goalie in the future.

Projected NHL arrival: This season

3. Kyle Connor , LW

 

 

How acquired: Selected with No. 17 pick of 2015 NHL Draft

 

Last season: University of Michigan (NCAA): 38 GP, 35-36-71

Laine's arrival has somewhat overshadowed Connor, who could emerge as one of the steals of the 2015 draft. The 19-year-old dominated at the University of Michigan and was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award as a freshman. He led the NCAA with 71 points and had a 27-game point streak.

Connor (6-1, 182) was Big Ten Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year, and earned All-Big Ten First Team and Big Ten All-Rookie Team honors. He may begin the season in the AHL, working to bulk up and adjust to the pro game. However, Connor is at the very least an outside possibility to win an NHL job at training camp. If not, he should make a strong bid for a spot on the roster during the season.

Projected NHL arrival: This season

4. Josh Morrissey, D

 

 

How acquired: Selected with No. 13 pick of 2013 NHL Draft

 

Last season: Winnipeg: 1 GP, 0-0-0; Manitoba (AHL): 57 GP, 3-19-22

Morrissey shouldered the load for Manitoba when it struggled and eventually emerged as its top defenseman.

The 21-year-old plays a heady game that combines strong skating with excellent vision. After early struggles adjusting to the pro game in the AHL, he found a comfort level that often revealed itself with a physical presence.

A left-handed shot, Morrissey (6-0, 195) could provide a boost to the left side of the Jets defense, one of the biggest weaknesses that Maurice has had to deal with in his tenure.

Projected NHL arrival: This season

5. Brendan Lemieux, LW

 

 

How acquired: In multiplayer trade with Buffalo Sabres, Feb. 11, 2015

 

Last season: Barrie/Windsor (OHL): 45 GP, 32-30-62; Manitoba (AHL): 5 GP, 2-1-3

The Jets have long lacked an agitator, and Lemieux can fill that role. The son of longtime NHL forward Claude Lemieux, he plays much like his father. An aggressive, abrasive player who can frustrate opponents, Lemieux (6-1, 210) also has shown a scoring touch. Selected in the second round (No. 31) by the Sabres in the 2014 draft, the 20-year-old had two goals in five AHL games as a late-season call-up.

Projected NHL arrival: Next season

-- Patrick Williams, NHL.com

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