From a regular season standpoint, 2022-23 left a lot to be desired for the Winnipeg Jets. They stayed in mediocrity for a majority of the season, barely squeaked into the playoffs, and left nearly as fast as they got there. With that, the Winnipeg Jets could very possibly be the busiest team in the league over these next few months as they intend to stay competitive going into the 2023/24 season.
Jumping into what could be the most important offseason Kevin Cheveldayoff has had with the Winnipeg Jets, he started things off with a boom by trading Pierre Luc Dubois, for multiple pieces on the current roster, as well as a 2024 Second Round Pick, and Rasmus Kupari to the Depth Charts. However, I’m sure that’s just the beginning, as work needs to be done surrounding Mark Scheifele, and Connor Hellebuyck.
The most exciting time of the year has come and gone, and we have more prospects to discuss!
The Winnipeg Jets entered the 2023 NHL Draft with just 5 picks to their name, including the 18th overall selection at the top. With that said, the Jets were very quiet on the trade front when it came to draft picks, so let’s get into who else the Winnipeg Jets added to their Prospect Pool.
Round One, 18th Overall – Colby Barlow | LW
The Jets, in recent history, have taken high upside swings in the first round, most notably with Chaz Lucius and Brad Lambert, however, it sounds like the Winnipeg Jets wanted to go into this Draft and add some size to their roster, and they certainly did that with their first swing.
While the Jets system is rather forward-heavy at the top and log-jammed defensively, I respect the swing to take a high-upside player and not focus too much on who fits the team better. Barlow fits the Winnipeg trend of focusing on scholastic players, joining Cole Perfetti, Josh Morrissey, and Adam Lowry who, with Barlow, won the CHL Scholastic Player of the Year. Barlow was the youngest captain in Owen Sound history, is a great leader and personality around the room, and screams “future captain” which is an incredible swing for Winnipeg to take at this pick, especially with their history in that area. From a hockey standpoint, he’s a pure, physical, goal scorer. He’s very physically mature and looks as if he could step into the NHL today, although I highly doubt that’s their intention with Barlow. The highlights of Barlow’s game are his quick release paired with a very heavy shot. It makes him a serious threat to score at any area of the ice, as he pairs that talent with versatility. He can deke, tip, shoot, bang in greasy rebounds, he’ll score in whichever way he can.
The Winnipeg Jets need to build their team from the locker room out, and Barlow is the perfect pick to start that trend. Very well-liked in his community and team, A great leader, and superbly talented, the Winnipeg Jets are high on his character and work ethic, and I couldn’t agree more with that. Barlow has a solid base to make him a high floor player, but he also has the versatility and toolset to give him top 6 upside as well.
Round Three – Zachary Nehring | RW
Continuing with the trend of building up the size, the Winnipeg Jets drafted a big-frame power forward out of Shattuck St. Mary’s. Nehring wasn’t afraid to use his size this year, as he was commonly reported as a “Bull” for his team, and was never afraid to back down. With that, he also has a lot of tools that make him an intriguing player, most notably his vision and playmaking ability. He was a scoring force for the program, landing 85 points in 54 games, which was good for fourth best in the prep-hockey circuit. Nehring loves the one-tap pass, as he utilizes it very often when he drives to the net and gets in position. He’s not afraid to get to the dirty areas and score those greasy goals that will be all so important when it matters most at an NHL level. However, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows, as Nehring has a lot of work to do with his stride. His crossovers need a lot of work, and unfortunately, this is a bit of a domino effect, as it means he can’t change direction quickly enough, which will be an enormous issue at an NHL level when you need to make those split-second choices. Luckily, his hands and brain can think the game at a high level, work just needs to be put into his stride to take his game to the next level.
Nehring is committed to Western Michigan University for the 2023/24, and will most likely be expected to take on a rather big role with the team. How he handles this big jump in competition will be great to see, as this is a massive step in his development.
Round Five – Jacob Julien | C
The big trend continues, as the Jets draft a 6’4 Center out of London. Winnipeg certainly wasn’t afraid to go off the board to get what they want, ranked 161 by NA Central Scouting, Julien was drafted 146th by Winnipeg.
Julien played a shutdown defensive role in London’s bottom 6 throughout the year. He’s a big body but could benefit from using it more and playing with a meaner style. He has a strong reach and can use it to push his way to the net, and he has a solid net-front style with him as well. Skill-wise, unfortunately, a lot of work needs to be done in this area. His stride is pretty heavy, and he needs to develop a faster first 3 steps, as well as agility and edgework to make himself more elusive and less heavy and straightforward. He could also benefit from working with a skills coach to develop his hands and passing ability. as he does have relatively good vision in the offensive zone and a quick release. Ultimately, this is an off-the-board risk that the Jets are taking, in hopes that Julien will further develop to become a good third or fourth liner in the future.
Round 5 – Thomas Milic | G
Having been passed over more than once, the Winnipeg Jets pick a well-known and proven overager in Thomas Milic. Mostly known for his run with Team Canada at the World Juniors, posting a .932 in 6 games, he was quite the popular goalie coming into this draft.
The first positive that stands out with Milic is that he’s been good at almost every level. with a .928 in 33 games (.933 in 19 playoff games) with Seattle in the WHL, a .912 with Seattle in 47 games in 2021/22, and a .913 in 9 games with Seattle in 2020/21, Milic has consistently been good for Seattle and has had control of the 1A position on that team for 2 years now. Milic, stylistically, is a very calm, cool, and collected goaltender between the pipes. He doesn’t have the height to make himself look big in the net, and he doesn’t play aggressively to make up for that, he just plays quick, and calm in his crease. You don’t see many desperation saves from Milic as not often will you see him in a position to make those saves to begin with. As an undersized goalie, he makes up for this in speed and agility, and remarkable footwork. It’s almost as if Milic sees the game two steps ahead, and always tries to read what the player is going to do, not what they’re currently doing.
As a 20-year-old, Milic will take the step to Pro this year, competing for a spot on the Manitoba Moose. There’s starter potential with Milic, a risk well worth taking for Winnipeg as he’s already quite far along in his development.
Round Seven – Connor Levis | C
The Jets take a swing on upside here with Connor Levis out of the WHL. While shooting isn’t the focus of his offense, he possesses a strong, quick release in close quarters, which makes him dangerous in front of the net. He doesn’t shoot much but when he does, he tends to make the most of it. Levis thrives as a team supporter and can make those around him better, individually, however, much is left to be desired, which is most likely why he was available at this pick in the first place. His skating and puck handling limits what he’s capable of doing on his own. Levis specializes as an off-the-board playmaker and uses his strength, vision, and passing ability to succeed in this role. He’s at his strongest when he’s on the boards, he can turn nothing into something in the blink of an eye, as he’s able to turn aggressive puck battles into scoring chances with his vision and playmaking ability.
Levis needs to refine his defensive play and be much more noticeable than he is, but if Levis can develop that side of his game and use his size more aggressively while defending, he could become a good bottom 6 player for Winnipeg. However, much work needs to be done before he can get to that point.
Levis was on Kamloops third line for a majority of this season due to their stacked roster, however, with most of Kamloop’s offense leaving the team, he’ll be the focal point of their 2023/24 roster, and will most likely be a major reason for any success they may see. A lot of eyes will be on him, and it will be interesting to see how he handles a much more prominent offensive role.
The biggest move for the Jets up to this point has been the Pierre-Luc Dubois trade. He was moved to the Los Angeles Kings for Gabriel Vilardi, Alex Iafallo, Rasmus Kupari, and a 2024 Second Round Pick, which shows the fanbase that Cheveldayoff was serious about wanting to compete now, and wants to trade his pieces for help on the roster today. Gabriel Vilardi had a breakout season for the Los Angeles Kings, and is the major return back for Dubois, as he’ll be slotting immediately into the Winnipeg Jets top 6. Having just signed an extension, Vilardi under contract for 3.437 million for 2 years is good work for both the player and the team.
The Winnipeg Jets have also bought out Blake Wheeler’s contract. It was clear they needed to go their separate ways, and unfortunately, the Winnipeg Jets weren’t able to move his contract without adding onto the trade package to make it worthwhile for the trade partner. This trade shows a dynamic switch for the Jets, both in the locker room and on the ice, as Blake Wheeler was a very prominent figure in both areas. His gap will most likely be filled by Alex Iafallo in the coming season, who has another 2 years left on his 4 million dollar contract.
The Winnipeg Jets will most likely look quite a bit different going into the 2023/24 seasons, with rumours surrounding Mark Scheifele and Connor Hellebuyck still lingering on. Losing Blake Wheeler and Pierre-Luc Dubois, and adding Gabriel Vilardi, Alex Iafallo, and Rasmus Kupari. The bottom 6 will look for an identity change as well, as Sam Gagner, Karson Kuhlman and Saku Maenalanen have all tested free agency.
Gabriel Vilardi, Alex Iafallo, Rasmus Kupari, Laurent Brossoit, Artemi Kniazev
Pierre Luc-Dubois, Leon Gawanke, Sam Gagner, Karson Kuhlman, Saku Maenalanen, Kevin Stenlund, David Rittich
Dylan Samberg, Morgan Barron, Axel Jonsson-Fjällby, Vladislav Namestnikov
Rasmus Kupari, Logan Stanley
The Jets have been louder than usual due to the Dubois trade, but they’ve kept the tradition alive of keeping their cards close. The draft was quiet as expected, but adding Colby Barlow is very good for the organization from an on-ice perspective, and an off-ice perspective as well. They added much-needed size to their roster and topped it off by bringing back a popular fan favourite in Laurent Brossoit.
The Dubois trade went much better than I expected, Vilardi could be a high-upside swing that could replace Dubois as soon as next season if he continues to develop in the right direction. Iaffalo is very popular in the locker room and has a positive contract for the team with 2 years remaining. Rasmus Kupari is another potential swing, as he never had much of a chance to succeed with the depth Los Angeles has, but he’ll have plenty of opportunity to succeed in the Jets bottom 6 this coming season.
Check back next month as we dive into the organizational depth chart, identifying risers and fallers as well as projected roles for the 2022-23 season.