The Winnipeg Jets had a good regular season but after a first-round playoff loss at the hands of the Vegas Golden Knights, Head Coach Rick Bowness was very public in his criticism of his star players. Their response was publicly questioning their long-term future with the club.
With GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, the Jets have made few roster moves, keeping the team core as intact as possible, but with such public turmoil in the dressing room, the team may be looking at an off-season of massive trades. Moves could include core players such as Pierre-Luc Dubois, Connor Hellebuyck, or Blake Wheeler. Such moves would likely indicate the team entering a rebuilding or retooling phase towards a younger group built around the timeline supporting Mark Scheifele, Nik Ehlers, Kyle Connor, and Josh Morrissey.
The good news for Winnipeg is if they embrace a rebuild, the prospect pool already has plenty of players with potential that are close or not far away from being NHL-ready.
1. Cole Perfetti, C – Winnipeg Jets (NHL)
Drafted: 2020 round one 10th overall by Winnipeg Jets
“Goal” Perfetti as he was known in junior after posting back-to-back 37 goal seasons in his first two years would have graduated from prospect status if injuries had not limited him to just 51 games. Last year he split his time between the NHL and AHL and was near a point per game production in Manitoba with the Moose. His AHL time is now over, and he will be back to full health with the Jets in 2023-24 where he should be elevated in the lineup to a top six role.
2. Chaz Lucius, C – Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
Drafted: 2021 round one 18th overall by Winnipeg Jets
Lucius has had an erratic development path since his draft. Selected 18th overall after playing for the US Development program where he had 13 goals and 20 points in 13 games, he committed to the University of Minnesota. As a freshman with the Gophers, he had 19 points in 24 games and signed his ELC following his freshman year.
Injuries have cost him games played every year and it is a concern with his development both missing so many games and being a transient player. For the 2022-23 season he started in the AHL, played only 12 games due to injury and was loaned to play for USA at the WJC. He had seven points there and won the Bronze Medal. Following the WJC he was assigned to the WHL and was dominating with the Portland Winterhawks scoring 15 points in only six games before his season was shut down with a shoulder injury.
Lucius needs a good season of health and consistency likely in the AHL to develop his game to it’s potential, which is a top-six offensive player.
3. Rutger McGroarty, C/LW – University of Michigan (NCAA)
Drafted: 2022 round one 14th overall by Winnipeg Jets
The Jets hope they drafted their future captain in McGroarty. The Michigan prospect brings a hefty toolbox which includes size at 6-1, 205, leadership, skill, and a high hockey IQ. What he lacks is skating, it is well below average.
McGroarty had a banner draft year with the US National team posting 69 points and 65 PIM’s in 54 games. He was named Captain of the U18 National team and had eight goals and nine points in six games. As a freshman with the All-Star Wolverines, he played top minutes and recorded 18 goals and 39 points in 39 games.
McGroarty will return to the NCAA for his sophomore year and likely signs his ELC to finish in the NHL. A season of adjusting to pro hockey and time to spend on improving his skating in the AHL is very likely before he cracks the Jets roster.
4. Ville Heinola, LD – Manitoba Moose (AHL)
Drafted: 2019 round one 20th overall by Winnipeg Jets
After briefly making the NHL out of his draft, Heinola has been making slow progress in his development. The Finnish defender has split time between the NHL, AHL and Liiga for four seasons now. His offensive production has slowly but steadily improved in the AHL over the past three seasons climbing from 0.58 to 0.63 to 0.77 points per game.
Heinola is looking NHL ready now, but unless the Jets make roster moves or suffer injuries, he is likely looking at one more year in the AHL. The Jets have eight NHL defenseman under contract for the 2023-24 season and Heinola has one more year on his ELC and is waiver exempt. Until veterans Brenden Dillon and Dylan DeMelo’s contracts expire after the coming season, Heinola likely has to bide his time in the AHL.
5. Declan Chisholm, LD – Manitoba Moose (AHL)
Drafted: 2018 round five 150th overall by Winnipeg Jets
The 23-year-old has been steadily developing since his time in the OHL with the Petes. He had a breakout D+1 year in Peterborough posting 48 points, followed by a 69-point season as a senior. His AHL rookie season was limited to just 28 games due to the pandemic, but he now has three full seasons of AHL seasoning under his belt.
The Jets NHL roster is jammed with players under contract and Chisholm has now played out his ELC and will need to be re-signed. Once that happens, he will lose his waiver exemption and would never clear waivers. Something has to give as Chisholm looks like he is NHL ready now, either in Winnipeg or elsewhere.
6. Brad Lambert, RW – Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)
Drafted: 2022 round one 30th overall by Winnipeg Jets
Heading into his draft year, Lambert was in the conversation for first overall in his draft class. As a teenager he was playing pro hockey and shining both in the Liiga and with Finland internationally. He has excellent skating and above average puck skills. What he lacks is a high-level hockey sense, and a questionable compete level.
He had under whelming D-1 and draft seasons with JYP, and was traded to the Pelicans with no improvement. His play with Finland at the WJC was a disaster as he played only five games as he was a healthy scratch. His draft stock dropped to the bottom of the first round. His D+1 year started in the AHL where he was overwhelmed and struggled to score three points in 14 games with the Moose. He was loaned to Finland for the WJC where he should have been a force but had one goal in five games. He was sent to the WHL where Seattle selected him from the Import Draft, and he was able to dominate at the junior level scoring 17 goals and 38 points in 26 games on a talented Thunderbirds roster.
With his confidence restored he remains a work in progress to see if he can find production at the professional level. Still only 19-year-old the potential is very high, but it remains to be seen if his game will translate to the AHL, let alone the NHL. If he can figure things out and reach his massive potential it will be a steal of a pick at 30th overall for the Jets.
7. Nikita Chibrikov, LW/RW – MHK Spartak Moskva (MHL)
Drafted: 2021 round two 50th overall by Winnipeg Jets
The Russian winger has signed his ELC with the Jets and will play in the AHL next year. This is great news for his development. While playing in Russia he was used sparingly when in the KHL and was very frequently shuffled between leagues playing in the KHL one night, then the MHL or the VHL the next.
When he played at the junior level, he had quality minutes and produced. He showed his tremendous offensive sill set in his draft year at the U18 where he posted 13 points in seven games.
Chibrikov combines shifty skating and pucks skills to attack on the rush. He needs to add some strength and power to his frame to support his willingness to fight for loose pucks and open ice. A year or two of consistent coaching, ice time and development in the AHL could hone his game into a middle six offensive winger in the NHL.
8. Dmitri Kuzmin, LD – Flint Firebirds (OHL)
Drafted: 2021 round three 82nd overall by Winnipeg Jets
The Belarusian defenseman had two impressive seasons in the OHL with the Flint Firebirds where he was the team’s best defender.
Kuzmin is an undersized offensive defenseman. He has the ability to make breakout transition passes and can run a powerplay from the point. Not many 5-10 defensemen can make the NHL, and at that size, they really need to have at least one elite level skill in their game.
Despite his size, Kuzmin is a feisty player posting 96 PIMs last year along with 59 points in 65 games. He will move up to the AHL for the coming season and as a rookie in Manitoba we will see how his game translates to the pro level. There is some upside here.
9. Danny Zhilkin, C – Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
Drafted: 2022 round three 77th overall by Winnipeg Jets
Zhilkin missed his sophomore year due to the pandemic as the OHL was shut down, but because of his late birthday, it was not a draft year for him. The only hockey he played that year was at the U18 with Canada where he had two points playing in a support role.
He had a breakout draft year with Guelph scoring 55 points in 66 games and the Jets selected him 77th overall. The Canadian-Russian forward has high end skills and vision. He can pull off some highlight reel goals or plays. His skating is a work in progress and his consistency needs to be addressed as well, common critiques of junior players.
Zhilkin will take his game to the AHL now and will need a few years of development there before we know if he can be an NHL top nine player, or a career AHL player.
10. Dmitri Rashevsky, RW – Dynamo Moskva (KHL)
Drafted: 2021 round five 146th overall by Winnipeg Jets
The Russian winger has done an impressive job of carving out consistent KHL ice time for the last two seasons. In that time, he has posted back-to-back 19-goal campaigns and consistent offensive numbers. He plays an aggressive forechecking game, reads the ice well and plays with pace.
The Jets may have found an NHL player with their fifth-round pick but will have to wait at least one more year to bring him to North America as he is signed for at least one more KHL season.