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Talent the focus of Jets at NHL Draft

by Mitchell Clinton (@MClinton007) / Winnipeg Jets

SUNRISE, Florida -- General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff may have summed up the Winnipeg Jets’ performance in the 2015 NHL Draft best:

“We feel we’ve added a lot of skill to our organization.”

With seven of the team’s eight selections coming at forward, the Jets have added a lot of skill, including the talents of Jansen Harkins. The Prince George Cougars centre set a franchise record with 59 assists in 2014-2015, and won the Dan Hamhuis Award as the team’s MVP. Harkins is excited to begin his career in Winnipeg.

“This is probably one of the best days of my life. It’s very cool to be with the Jets,” he said shortly after being selected 47th overall. “To be able to play hockey at this level you have to have the right passion and you have to enjoy it. So far it’s been working out. Just continue to love the game and bring my passion to the rink every day.”

Harkins grew up in a hockey family. His father (Todd) and uncle (Brett) also played in the NHL. Harkins said his dad played a role in keeping him calm this weekend.

“There’s nothing that can really prepare you for this moment,” Harkins said. “But through hockey he’s always been there for me, as has my whole family. I’m really fortunate.”

Harkins was projected by NHL Central Scouting to be selected in the first round, but Cheveldayoff said post-draft that happens from time to time, and he was happy to see Harkins in Jets colours.

“He’s a skilled centre man… over a point a game in his draft year in the Western Hockey League,” Cheveldayoff said. “He’s a real smart, good puck distributor and he’s only going to be stronger. I think he’s going to be a real solid player for us.”

To go along with the theme of drafting forwards, the Winnipeg Jets also looked to the United States Hockey League. Four of the Jets’ eight selections came from the USHL. Along with Friday’s selections of Kyle Connor (17th overall) and Jack Roslovic (25th overall), Cheveldayoff and his team of scouts added Erik Foley (78th overall) and Mason Appleton (168th overall).

“It's unbelievable. I know Winnipeg is a real big hockey hot bed up there. I'm really excited to be a part of this organization. It's really nice that I can cherish this moment with my family,” Foley said with a smile. “I'm just really excited that I can be a part of it with them. I know Kyle a little bit, I know Jack a little bit too. So it'll be fun.”

While Foley played in Cedar Rapids and registered 54 points in 55 games, Appleton, a native of Green Bay, Wisonsin, had 40 points of his own with the Tri-City Storm. Appleton will be playing with Michigan State in the NCAA in 2015-2016.

“It's awesome to see guys names get called that you've played against all year,” said Appleton. “These USHL kids, we're all going to head to college and really be able to develop our games and our bodies. So when we get the opportunity to play in the NHL, hopefully we're prepared for it.”

The new selections don’t have a lot of time to prepare before skating in front of the Winnipeg fans for the first time. The team’s development camp begins in the coming week, with the first ice session at the MTS Iceplex slated for July 3.

Two picks also came from overseas. Right wing Michael Spacek was selected from Pardubice in the Czech Republic, while Sami Niku of Finland was the lone defenceman taken by the Jets in this year’s draft.

Matteo Gennaro of the Prince Albert Raiders was the final pick by Winnipeg. Gennaro notched 16 goals and 31 points in 72 WHL games this season.

Overall, Cheveldayoff was pleased with how the draft played out. But he said it was a product of honesty in the team’s scouting meetings.

“I keep telling (the scouts) ‘Don’t draft a guy just because he’s on someone’s list or is on the list of a publication. Draft him because you want him to be a Winnipeg Jet.’ I encourage that passion out of the guys,” Cheveldayoff said. “We have some fun with it in the room and we have some fun with it at the table, but when it gets down to the seriousness of the picks, the guys are prepared.”

And that’s the key. Cheveldayoff trusts the work Director of Amateur Scouting, Marcel Comeau, and all the scouts on the Winnipeg Jets staff.

“When there are players the scouts are passionate about drafting,” he said, “those are the ones you draft.”

- -Mitchell Clinton,

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