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31 in 31

Top prospects for Winnipeg Jets

Vesalainen, Lemieux among forwards who could make impact this season

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

NHL.com is providing in-depth prospect analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, the top five prospects for the Winnipeg Jets, according to NHL.com.

 

[Jets 31 IN 31: Season preview | 3 Questions | Fantasy breakdown | Behind the Numbers]

 

1. Kristian Vesalainen, F

How acquired: Selected with No. 24 pick in 2017 NHL Draft

Last season: HPK/Karpat (Finland): 49 GP, 22-21-43

Vesalainen (6-foot-3, 207 pounds) made major strides playing in the top Finnish league. He was traded late in the season from HPK to Karpat and helped Karpat win the Liiga championship with eight points (four goals, four assists) in 18 postseason games.

The Jets agreed to terms with the 19-year-old on a three-year, entry-level contract worth an average annual value of $1.492 million on Aug. 26. He could find opportunity on the Jets' third or fourth line in his first season in North America.

Projected NHL arrival: This season

Video: Jets draft F Kristian Vesalainen No. 24

 

2. Brendan Lemieux, F

How acquired: Trade from Buffalo Sabres on Feb. 11, 2015

Last season: Winnipeg: 9 GP, 1-0-1; Manitoba (AHL) 51 GP, 19-24-43

Lemieux got his first taste of NHL action in 2017-18, playing nine games for the Jets. The 22-year-old scored his first NHL goal Oct. 29, 2017 in a 7-1 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The left wing (6-1, 210) has always played with an edge and has been learning how to refine and adjust that against NHL-caliber players. He has laid the groundwork for a full-time opportunity with the Jets but will require a solid training camp.

Projected NHL arrival: This season

Video: PIT@WPG: Lemieux deflects home his first NHL goal 

 

3. Mason Appleton, F

How acquired: Selected with No. 168 pick in 2015 NHL Draft

Last season: Manitoba (AHL): 76 GP, 22-44-66

Appleton rocketed up the Jets radar with a surprising season that earned him AHL rookie of the year honors. The former Michigan State forward (6-2, 193) showed quickness, aggressiveness and poise in his first pro season. One more season in the AHL, where he will no longer be a surprise and will face better opposition defenders, will help the 22-year-old.

Projected NHL arrival: Next season

 

4. Sami Niku, D

How acquired: Selected with No. 198 pick in 2015 NHL Draft

Last season: Winnipeg: 1 GP, 1-0-1; Manitoba (AHL): 76 GP, 16-38-54

Expectations have soared for the Finland-born defenseman after a breakout first season in North America. The 21-year-old is not an imposing physical presence (6-1, 176), but his awareness, ability to move the puck and to create offense led to his selection as AHL defenseman of the year last season.

Niku made his NHL debut April 3 and scored a third-period goal in a 5-4 overtime win against the Montreal Canadiens.

Projected NHL arrival: Next season

Video: WPG@MTL: Niku buries Connor's feed for first NHL goal

 

5. Eric Comrie, G

How acquired: Selected with No. 59 pick in 2013 NHL Draft

Last season: Winnipeg: 3 GP, 1-2-0, 3.99 GAA, .872 SV%; Manitoba (AHL): 34 GP, 18-13-3, 2.58 GAA, .916 SV%

Comrie played four seasons with Tri-City of the Western Hockey League before making the transition to the AHL.

The Jets traded goalie Steve Mason to the Montreal Canadiens and goalie Michael Hutchinson signed with the Florida Panthers as an unrestricted free agent on July 1. Those moves could benefit Comrie, who spent last season as the backup to Hutchinson in Manitoba. Comrie (6-1, 175) is expected to be Manitoba's starter this season.

The 23-year-old was recalled from Manitoba on three occasions last season and is 2-2-0 in four NHL starts.

Projected NHL arrival: Next season

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