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MCKEEN’S 2023-24 NHL YEARBOOK – WINNIPEG JETS – Top 20 Prospect Profiles – Organizational Rank #13

Top 20 Winnipeg Jets Prospects

1. Colby Barlow

There are a multitude of reasons why Barlow has already been so successful as a junior, scoring 46 goals for the Owen Sound Attack last season. He plays the North/South power game to a tee. A strong forechecker, he consistently applies pressure in pursuit, and has a clear understanding for using his size and strength to get to the middle of the ice and to the net. He also has a tremendous shot, one of the better ones from the 2023 draft class. Another thing that makes Barlow so valuable is his two-way effectiveness. An excellent penalty killer and a strong board player, he is not shy in using his strength to separate players from the puck. Very few top-end goal scorers are committed two-way players like he projects as at the NHL level. On the other hand, there were reasons why some scouts were sceptical. His lack of dynamic skating can negatively impact his ability to transport the puck. Additionally, there are some limitations to his puck skill and creativity, all also limiting his play creation in transition. He is at his best when keeping the game simple and playing a complementary North/South attacking style. Advanced physically, Barlow should only need one more year in the OHL before he could be ready to take on a full-time role with the Jets.

2. Brad Lambert

Lambert is difficult to get a confident read on, because his performances can swing wildly between highs and lows. When he reaches those highs, his performances can be thrilling. His skating is magnificent, and he can pull off some truly dazzling plays with the puck in motion at top speed. He can also be a lethal shooter when he wants to be. A midseason change of scenery to WHL Seattle last season was perfect for his development, as he turned in the longest stretch of high-level hockey in years, as he was consistently at the very top of the game, and he kept getting better as the playoffs rolled along. Opposing WHL teams simply have no answer for him when he plays like that. The challenge now for Winnipeg will be finding a way to get this version of Lambert to somehow show up on a regular basis.

3. Chaz Lucius

You have to feel for Lucius after all of the bad injury luck that he has already faced in his young career. After previously battling through hand, ankle, and knee issues, he had to undergo season-ending shoulder surgery after just six games with his new team, WHL Portland. The most recent loss was surely devastating for the Winterhawks as well, as he had fit in fantastically from the get-go, putting up 15 points during those six games. When healthy, the impact he makes is undeniable. Lucius is a natural goal scorer, with excellent shot mechanics and accuracy. He can also improve his shooting opportunities by fending off defenders with his reach and strength or by making smooth dekes to pull pucks into better shooting areas. The hope is that he can stay healthy from here on out and become the star he occasionally shows signs of.

4. Ville Heinola

On many other teams in the league Heinola would have been a regular, everyday NHLer by now. Unfortunately for him, he has been predominantly stuck in the minors for multiple seasons due to Winnipeg's defensive depth. His game has improved by leaps and bounds in the AHL though, and if the Jets don't give him a full-time chance at the sport's highest level this season, then he will have every right to be frustrated. He possesses and moves the puck at a high level and has largely ironed out defensive concerns that were previously apparent, though his lack of strength and reach will always be somewhat of a detriment. He's always been more of an even strength puck-mover than an offensive specialist, but his point production saw a notable uptick in 2022-23. Heinola might not reach his top four ceiling if the Jets don't commit now to taking the training wheels off.

5. Rutger McGroarty

There are few prospects in hockey who are better within 10 feet of the opponent's net than McGroarty. He's superb in 50-50 battles and with establishing body positioning through strength and sturdy balance, and he blends those abilities with top-tier anticipation and hand-eye coordination, which makes him an expert at scoring greasy goals. If that wasn't enough, he can beat goalies clean with his shot from in tight or just outside the crease if given even just a little time and space. His heavy boots are a problem, and probably always will be to some degree, but how he is able to work around that weakness and still find success in his own way is very impressive. There are a lot of natural leadership elements here to work with as well. McGroarty knows exactly what kind of player he is and is leaning into mastering the way he plays.

6. Nikita Chibrikov

There exists a fine line between possessing a lot of pure individual skill and knowing how to use that skill within the structure of a team game. That's the dilemma facing Chibrikov, and it has persisted for years. There is no denying his abundance of talent. A fast and fluid skater, he can make flashy, confident moves with the puck. He loves to challenge defenders one-on-one and has what it takes to beat them often. The problem is that his game hits the wall because he'll try to do too much by himself and not play off his teammates enough. The lack of diversification with his attack is holding him back at the KHL level, and it will be even worse in North America. Chibrikov could become an effective top six winger after learning how to make that necessary adjustment.

7. Declan Chisholm

The Jets organization is very deep with young defenders, so the competition to stand out is fierce. Chisholm recognizes the situation very well and has been continually elevating his game accordingly. He's a play driver from the back end, excelling when he has the puck on his stick and relishing the responsibility of making sure it successfully gets up the ice. His hands, feet, and vision all work very well in conjunction, and he has a very assertive and incisive mindset about beating opposing layers of defenders. Navigating through traffic is a breeze for him. He still needs to show progress off the puck, but he'll be fine if he can focus on tightening up his gap control. If the Jets don't make roster space for Chisholm this season, with his exemption from waivers running out, don't be surprised if another team jumps at the chance to add a good, young asset for no cost.

8. Dmitry Rashevsky

From a pure entertainment standpoint, Rashevsky is exceptional and nearly impossible to take your eyes off of. His bag of puck tricks is overflowing, and he rarely passes up an opportunity to try something dramatic and exciting. He also possesses a high-end motor, so if he tries something that doesn't pan out, he'll work hard to get the puck back on the same shift and try something else. He's such a natural at pulling pucks past sticks and skates and into shooting spaces, and then picking his spots to beat goalies clean. He's a late bloomer because it took him a while to master his style of play, but now he's a legitimate star in the KHL. His skating, strength, and conditioning all need further work, but if he can show some improvement in those areas, he has real upside as an NHL scoring threat.

9. Artemi Kniazev

Kniazev hasn't really changed a whole lot since his draft year, which can be both a good thing or a bad thing depending on how you look at it. He is a play-driving defenseman who operates at a high pace and wants to be a possession conduit for his team. He jumps at every opportunity to join the rush and is always ready to follow it all the way up into prime scoring territory. There is an aggressive confidence to him, which is a mentality that can be used to his advantage. Problems arise when he plays with that kind of fire a little frequently. It would also be nice to see him expand his game to additional dimensions. Even if Kniazev remains a fairly one-dimensional, pigeonholed kind of blueliner, he could be a specialist as a play driver as he continues to master his craft.

10. Elias Salomonsson

Salomonsson is a right-shot defenseman with slippery lateral mobility and smooth puck control, and those will always have value in the NHL. His primary job is to get pucks on retrievals, escape forecheck pressure, and help ensure the play heads successfully up the ice, whether that's by deferring with passes or through navigating the impending traffic himself. Overall, he succeeds in what he is supposed to do, and is increasingly being trusted to do it at Sweden's highest professional level. He's also relatively effective at the offensive blueline, keeping pucks in the zone and helping to find or create a multitude of scoring chances. At one point it looked like he could be a major point producer from the back end, however that hype has cooled off a lot. Concerns remain about how much bulk he can add to help withstand the rigors of a long NHL career without losing his mobility.

11. Domenic DiVincentiis

A seventh-round selection last year, DiVincentiis has rocketed up rankings thanks to his remarkable OHL season that saw him named as the league’s top netminder. He has learned to harness his athleticism to be more composed in the crease and consistency has followed.

12. Danny Zhilkin

The offensive production in the OHL never really reached the levels that Zhilkin was thought capable of, but he’s still a very intriguing prospect because of his speed and skill from the center position. How he adjusts to the pro level this year will be closely watched.

13. Dmitry Kuzmin

Terrific offensive defender who can be a difference maker in transition because of his skating ability and skill. Was a totally different player in the defensive end last year, becoming increasingly physically assertive despite his lack of size. Can that carry over to the pro level?

14. Fabian Wagner

While Wagner was fantastic offensively at the WJCs for Sweden last year, his production in Sweden probably gives a better indication of his NHL upside. He’s a pretty straight-forward player who can play a variety of different roles because of his IQ and skating ability. He could be a longtime fixture on an NHL third line in the future.

15. Daniel Torgersson

The Swedish missile, Torgersson struggled to be a consistent offensive contributor with Manitoba last year as an AHL rookie. As he gains confidence, he probably has more to give physically, too. Winnipeg will be looking for him to take a step forward as an AHL sophomore this season.

16. Oskari Salminen

There were ups and downs in Salminen’s first season in Manitoba after signing with Winnipeg last summer. He looked fantastic at times,but not so great at others. Finding that consistency will be key for him if he wishes to push for a backup spot in the NHL.

17. Zach Nehring

Drafted out of Shattuck St. Mary’s this year, Nehring is a power skating, North/South winger who can drive the net. He has great upside due to his physical tools, but he remains a long-term project. He’ll play with USHL Sioux Falls this year before going to Western Michigan in 2024-25.

18. Simon Lundmark

At this point, Lundmark may not have a ton of upside to offer for the NHL level, but he can still develop into a solid third pairing, PK type in the future. He moves well, thinks the game well, and has good reach. Just don’t expect much out of him offensively.

19. Kristian Vesalainen

The former highly touted first round pick was still qualified by the Jets as they retained his rights following a return to Finland. Is he still in their plans long term? That probably depends on how he plays in Liiga. He was good last year, but he’ll need to develop into one of the better players in Finland in order to earn another look from the Jets.

20. Thomas Milic

Milic was finally selected in the draft in his final year of eligibility despite strong play in the WHL over a few years. His gold medal performance for Canada at the WJCs last year have likely finally sealed the deal. Will the undersized netminder return to WHL Seattle for an OA year or will he turn pro? That will likely be determined at Winnipeg’s upcoming training camp.