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Jets building for future, with or without Kane

by Patrick Williams

WINNIPEG -- The path through the Central Division to the Stanley Cup Playoffs does not figure to get any easier for the Winnipeg Jets when the 2014-15 NHL season begins, with or without Evander Kane.

Evander Kane
Left Wing - WPG
GOALS: 19 | ASST: 22 | PTS: 41
SOG: 250 | +/-: -7
The Jets have not reached the playoffs since 2007, when the franchise was the Atlanta Thrashers, and were seventh in the division last season, their first after realignment moved them to the Western Conference. This summer, the Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild and Nashville Predators made significant moves in order to keep up with the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues.

The Jets signed center Mathieu Perreault from the Anaheim Ducks, but general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has remained quiet otherwise. He sees the Jets improving through their farm system, but, without mentioning any specific player, has said multiple times he is open to the possibility of shaking up his roster with a significant trade.

That includes a deal possibly involving Kane, a 22-year-old forward with a 30-goal season and a salary-cap-friendly contract for the next four years. For a team open to making over its roster, Kane is a natural target for speculation.

"I can only imagine as a player what goes through your mind when you hear [rumors] that so-and-so is being traded or different things like that," Cheveldayoff said Friday at Jets development camp. "It has got to be difficult. They're all professional hockey players and they're all subject to those kinds of things.

"Like I've been saying, I'm open to look to see [whether] there are ways to make improvements on this team. Without singling out any individual, I think that everybody starts to wonder what is going on."

Cheveldayoff did not confirm if Kane has asked for a trade. Kane refused to give a definitive answer when recently asked on The Team 1040 radio station in Vancouver if he wanted to play for the Jets.

"Again, with specific reference to Evander, I think that he has been asked those kinds of questions year after year after year since he has been here and since he has signed his [six-year] contract [in 2013]," Cheveldayoff said. "Evander Kane is a Winnipeg Jet and that's how we're moving forward."

They also are doing so with goaltender Ondrej Pavelec expected to return as the starter. His .901 save percentage was 46th among 51 qualified goaltenders last season, but Cheveldayoff and coach Paul Maurice have voiced support. Goaltender Michael Hutchinson led the St. John's IceCaps, the Jets' American Hockey League affiliate, to the Calder Cup Final, and he likely will be Pavelec's backup.

The Jets also have needs on the left side of their blue line, and there are open spots throughout the forward lines.

Cheveldayoff has preached a draft-and-develop mantra for the organization since his arrival in 2011, and his philosophy has helped the Jets rebuild their once-barren farm system. This week allowed him an up-close opportunity to witness some of his handiwork.

"I think it's a very exciting time when you get an opportunity to see the young kids come in and play and compete," Cheveldayoff said after a scrimmage ended the final camp session. "Obviously we've made no bones about it; we want to draft and develop players. This is a big, big part of the development process. For some of the players, it's the first step in the development process."

Left wing Nikolaj Ehlers, the ninth pick of the 2014 NHL Draft, arrived in Winnipeg after a 104-point rookie season with the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He drew the attention of a standing-room crowd for the scrimmage Friday, scoring and creating several plays against older competition.

"When that puck is on his stick you do get that sense that something is going to happen," Cheveldayoff said of Ehlers.

Do players like Ehlers, goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, defenseman and 2013 first-round selection Joshua Morrissey, left wing Adam Lowry and right wing Scott Kosmachuk have a legitimate opportunity to push their way into the NHL this season?

"I would never rule out anything," Cheveldayoff said. "These players are going to work hard during the summer. It will be a very competitive training camp with opportunities for all."

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