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McKeen’s 2020-21 Hockey Yearbook: Winnipeg Jets Top 20 Prospects

McKeen's Top 20 Winnipeg Jets prospects for the 2020-21 season. You can read an organizational assessment prior to the draft in Ryan Wagman's article found here. Following the draft we provided a review on each teams performance based on our rankings found here.

  1. Cole Perfetti, C/LW (10th overall, 2020. Previous ranking: NA)

Perfetti may not possess high end size or speed, but there are so many things to like about his game His best asset is his hockey sense. While he doesn’t possess game breaking speed, he can break down opposing defenses by being one step ahead of them. His preferred spot is the half wall, where he can survey the ice, quick hands and quick feet biding him time to make plays. He is a constant threat with the puck and turnovers are rare. He anticipates gaps, rebounds, and passes before they happen, and isn’t afraid to take a hit to make something happen. Perfetti possesses excellent edgework and lateral quickness. He is hard to contain due to his unpredictability. His wrist shot and release are terrific. He is creative in transition. There is doubt if he can stay down the middle at the next level. Perfetti also has steps to take as a two-way player, who can be relied upon in any situation. With his high-end hockey sense, he can likely improve some of his faults. He is a potential game breaking offensive forward who could one dayfind his way to the top of NHL scoring races. – BO

  1. Dylan Samberg, D (43rd overall, 2017. Previous ranking: 1)

The three years since Winnipeg used a second round pick on Samberg saw the big blueliner play a key role in two WJCs for Team USA, win two NCAA championships with Minnesota-Duluth and add 25 pounds to fill out his impressive frame, without any degradation in his quickness. He is a very good skater for his size, which is especially notable in his ability to recover after the puck goes the other way. While he can be physically imposing, playing the body against all manner of opponents, his off-the-puck game is much more than just a matter of brute force. He positions himself well and has a gigantic wingspan, allowing him to use that reach to break up rushes cleanly and legally. With the puck, he is functional enough to earn some second unit power play duties. He has a strong shot with a quick release. Moreover, he moves the puck well, without ever looking fancy. Samberg, more than anything else, makes the right play to put his team in an advantageous position. Finally signed to an ELC, Samberg could see NHL ice next season. - RW

  1. Kristian Vesalainen, LW/RW (24th overall, 2017. Previous ranking: 2)

At 6-4” and 228, Vesalainen can be an intimidating physical force, using his size to bust his way to the goal with pure momentum and strength. He is also an elite skater. Nimble and with impressive footwork, he achieves top speed quickly and is able to get separation on defenders when motoring through open ice. More of a shooter than a passer, he is deadly with his wrist shot anywhere from the faceoff dots in and is aware enough to open up passing lanes for teammates while looking shot. Despite his impressive raw package of skills, Vesalainen is perplexingly inconsistent and lacks assertiveness. Slow to adjust to the size of North American ice, he is prone to disappearing for a string of shifts and does not put up enough shots for a player as lethal with the puck as he is. 2019-20 was his first full season in N.A. competition and if he can figure out how to put his skillset together, he can be a top-line scoring winger; at worst, he is a rugged middle-six depth contributor. - TD

  1. Ville Heinola, D (20th overall, 2019. Previous ranking: 3)

Heinola showed promise in his eight-game NHL stint, but was eventually sent to the AHL before being returned to Finland. He plays with plenty of poise and makes sound decisions with the puck. He sees the ice really well and snaps accurate, crisp passes in all zones from simple outlets to longer passes up the rink. He has swift hands and picks pucks quickly off the wall to make plays. He also works well on the power play as his vision and passing skills are assets. He has an accurate shot from the point, whether it be a slap shot or wrister. He reads the game well defensively, has a quick stick and keeps tight gaps. However, Heinola could use his size more effectively in battles. He moves pretty well, but his skating is not high end, especially considering his size. He lacks explosive initial burst and could be quicker from a standstill and smooth out his forward stride. He makes up for the lack of quickness with his situational awareness. He has top pairing NHL potential, but the middle-pair is a more realistic projection. - MB

  1. Declan Chisholm, D (150th overall, 2018. Previous ranking: 4)

One of the better skaters out of the OHL, Chisholm is aggressive in leading the attack out of the defensive zone, using first step quickness to create separation from forecheckers, and his speed and edgework to gain the opposing blueline. A competent powerplay QB, he creates lanes with agility and lateral quickness. Finally, his gap control defensively is solid as he stays ahead of incoming attackers and has learned to trust his mobility to play more aggressively to take away space. Increased strength and improved engagement elevated his effectiveness. This will be the area that Chisholm will need to continue to work on, as well as his decision making in transition. He will likely need some time to gain the confidence necessary to play aggressively as a pro. Previously, Chisholm had trouble with turnovers, but cleaned that up this past year, and gets a better feel for when to take a risk. He will likely need several years of seasoning at the pro level before he is ready for an NHL role, but he projects as a number 4-6 defender who can also quarterback the powerplay. The key will be just how much his defensive game progresses. – BO

  1. Anton Johannesson, D (133rd overall, 2020. Previous ranking: NA)

Johannesson has missed a good chunk of the last two years to injury, which, when combined with his smaller frame, allowed the Jets to draft him in the fifth round. When healthy, he has showcased why he his high-end skills. A confident and competent mover, Johannesson excels in transition, using an effortless stride, strong agility, and quick hands to lead the attack. On the power play he is a very dangerous weapon because of how well he gets his shot through to the net and his ability to walk around defenders to create gaps in coverage. With the puck on his stick, it is rare to see him commit a turnover as his vision and decision making is sound. Needless to say, his upside as an offensive defender is very high. His size has held him back from being a consistently effective player in the defensive end. He isn’t strong in front of the net or along the boards and his overall awareness is raw. There is hope that as he fills out, he can become an adequate defensive player as his offensive skill set is definitely dynamic enough to play in the NHL. – BO

  1. Sami Niku, D (198th overall, 2015. Previous ranking: 5)

Three years removed from his dominant rookie AHL season, Niku has refined his craft and looks more like a future NHLer than a flash-in-the-pan. He impresses with splendid technical skating skill and inventiveness in moving the puck out and into the offensive zone. A superb puck-handler, he calls for the puck often and directs traffic through the neutral zone at even strength and the power play. His patience with the puck has improved significantly. Though he has improved defensively, he hasn’t looked entirely comfortable in his NHL stints, posting poor possession numbers and few points in transition while battling for ice time against veterans. Fighting through injuries -- including a preseason car accident with Vesalainen beside him -- Niku was not able to stamp himself into the NHL with regularity yet, with some hesitance and inconsistency in his play, but he very well could clinch a spot on their thinning blueline as soon as next season. As a seventh rounder, any NHL games played Niku registers is above market value for Winnipeg, but the 23-year-old’s story is only just beginning. - TD

  1. Mikhail Berdin, G (157th overall, 2016. Previous ranking: 6)

One of the most entertaining players at any position in the AHL, Berdin’s talent level is matched only by his swagger. A hard-nosed and fierce competitor in the crease, the Russian held up exceptionally through backstopping a Manitoba team that sat at the bottom of the Central Division all season, posting a .910 save percentage and a record near .500 in spite of a weak defense in front of him. Athletic and creative in the blue paint, his anticipation and play-reading improved mightily from his 2018-19 rookie pro season, but he mostly relies on his reflexes and impressive foot quickness. While puck-handling is not the most important skill a goaltender can have, Berdin’s talent and confidence with the puck is Brodeur-esque and capable of forcing a team to abandon any forechecking or dump-and-chase style. His selection of his tools and aggression can hurt him at times, but he can make difficult saves look easy consistently with his high-energy style. A sixth rounder in 2016, Berdin is a legit NHL prospect who could even push an NHL like Connor Hellebuyck for starts in the future. - TD

  1. Logan Stanley, D (18th overall, 2016. Previous ranking: 7)

Time on ice is not a publicly available statistic in the AHL, but I have a feeling Logan Stanley is near the top of the boards. A 6-7”, 242lb behemoth capable of logging heavy minutes with consistency and presenting opposing forwards with long, impassable gaps and borderline unfair stick length, the 22-year-old is exactly what the Jets thought they were taking in the middle of the 2016 first round. His defensive game is one of the most polished out of any pro in his age group, but his offensive game has been fairly impressive as well, showing out during power-play deployments with his booming slap shot and improved technical skating ability -- he already moved around pretty well for a big man. What is frustrating in his game, though, are his inconsistent and confusing reads; he can pass the puck into a dangerous situation or sell out for a hit and give up inside position at times, and that will have to be coached out of him. Otherwise, Stanley plays such a simple stay-at-home game that I can’t imagine he would have much trouble playing in the NHL for a decade plus, perhaps starting with next season. – TD

  1. Daniel Torgersson, LW (40th overall, 2020. Previous ranking: NA)

A burgeoning power forward, Torgersson has shown an ability to complement skilled players extremely well in a top six role. He skates well enough to keep up with them in a straight line and has good explosiveness for his size. He can cover the puck and win battles with his reach and strength is hard to contain around the net and on the rush. A physical player, he shows well in all three zones, competing hard on the forecheck and along the wall in his own end. However, his skill set as an offensive player is only average, which suggests that his upside may be limited to the bottom six player at the NHL level, an assessment that his home club of Frolunda may agree with, as they have only sporadic time up with the senior side, regardless of his great production at the junior level. If he can improve his release and his ability to create with the puck at full speed, there may be more upside. – BO

  1. David Gustafsson, C (60th overall, 2018. Previous ranking: 8)

It should go without saying that the Jets rushed Gustafsson to the NHL last season. Playing 22 games for Winnipeg at age 19, he had a Shot Attempt % of 29.9%, per, worse than any forward who played in more than four games. Were it not for a fortuitous PDO, he likely would have seen the back of the NHL much sooner. To his credit, Gustafsson was much better in his 13 game stint in the AHL and was far more impressive playing on the top line for Sweden at the WJC, helping his homeland to a Bronze Medal. It should also be said that playing up a level or two is nothing new for the center, as he played two full seasons in the SHL as a teenager before coming to North America. Gustafsson is a large-framed center with a great track record on the draw. He is quicker than he is fast, plays a very reliable two-way game and is strong on his stick. Due to always playing above his age class, his offensive upside is still a mystery, but Gustafsson has enough in his bag to make it in a bottom six role assuming he lacks the skill set to play top six. - RW

  1. Santeri Virtanen, C (105th overall, 2017. Previous ranking: 9)

Virtanen plays a tenacious, purposeful two-way game. He manages well in the corners and along the boards – the physical attributes are there. He reads the game well and provides puck support. He is very strong at face-offs. More of a defensive forward, he can be utilized on the penalty kill due to his defensive reliability. He has pretty good puck handling skills and a fine shot as well. In order to be able to play in the NHL, his skating will have to improve. Not the most efficient skater, he often takes wide turns. His first few strides are clumsy. He could improve his endurance and be more agile as well. Virtanen had a very promising start to the 2019-20 season but couldn’t quite maintain that level of play for the remainder of the campaign. Next season will be very important as he will need to contribute more offensively. At this point in time, he projects as a depth forward at the NHL level. - MB

  1. Nathan Smith, C (91st overall, 2018. Previous ranking: 10)

Drafted as a 19-year-old, Smith has one of the more interesting, unique stories among all prospects in this book. In his first year of draft eligibility, Smith was playing high school hockey. That, in and of itself, is not that interesting. But he was not playing in Minnesota, or Massachusetts. No, Smith was playing high school hockey in Florida. The Tampa native was crushing all comers in the Sunshine State, but surprisingly more than held his own when he moved up a few notches to play with Cedar Rapids of the USHL. His skating was maybe a little unrefined, with more experience playing roller hockey than ice hockey growing up, but he was clever and showed a gift for playmaking. Smith is comfortable playing in the middle of the ice and has proven himself to be effectively creative with the puck after a successful freshman season at Minnesota State. His skating has also improved from what he showed in the USHL. We are still years away from knowing how Smith will turn out, but he has already come so far. - RW

  1. Arvid Holm, G (167th overall, 2017. Previous ranking: 12)

Holm is starting to look like a sneaky good pick by the Jets from 2017. He never had the big numbers playing on a bottom team in the junior league but was since picked up by Farjestad in the SHL which is a big organization with a strong program for goalies. Holm has since been a big surprise to many. He has the size that you want in a modern goalie, and he reads the play well with good vision. He now plays better positionally as well. Holm showed strong consistency and his team won 20 of his 30 starts. He is not a goalie with any standout tools, but the athleticism and his hockey sense both seem to be above average. He has recently signed with Winnipeg but will play the next season in the SHL. With the latest season in mind I would not rule out him to be a fringe starter/backup-goalie in the NHL in the future. - JH

  1. Leon Gawanke, D (136th overall, 2017. Previous ranking: 13)

From an emerging but still, to this point, under-scouted hockey culture in Germany, Gawanke was top-ten in points and assists among rookie defensemen in the AHL in 2019-20 with Manitoba, a team starved of offense. This is an encouraging sign of things to come from a highly entertaining, risk-taking 21-year-old with little pro experience under his belt. Demonstrating a veteran-like ability to cut passes through traffic and walk the blueline on the power play, he is a very dangerous offensive defenseman, especially with his powerful slap shot. Never afraid to activate himself in transition, his powerful strides and quick acceleration allows him to jump into things with ease. Of course, he can get into trouble this way and will need to polish his anticipation and aggression, but he is still only 21 and has less than 50 pro games under his belt. With time, he can be a middle-pair puck-rusher with power play deployment. - TD

  1. Simon Lundmark, D (51st overall, 2019. Previous ranking: 14)

Smooth skating defensive prospect. Picked in the second round in 2019, Lundmark now looks more to be a depth prospect, as he did not take any big steps developmentally last season. If Lundmark reaches the NHL, it is most likely a bottom pair/7th defenseman role. He lacks the tools to be an offensively productive defenseman and is not that strong in defending his own end either. He moves the puck and his feet well and can be a solid breakout passer. He has played a bottom pair in SHL for two seasons now and will need to take a step forward in his team hierarchy to come closer to the NHL. For him to do that he will need to be more than a solid breakout passer. He sometimes complicates things and can get into trouble if he is under pressure from forecheckers. He will also need to be a stronger player in his own end when his team does not have the puck. If he does that, I can see value in a puck-moving defenseman in a third pairing role. - JH

  1. Kristian Reichel, C (Undrafted Free Agent, signed Jun. 15, 2020. Previous ranking: 15)

Undrafted out of the WHL, Reichel earned a two-year, two-way contract as one of the few bright spots on a dim Moose team in 2019-20. Signed as a fill-in depth player, the 22-year-old worked hard until earning a permanent top-six role alongside other Europeans such as Vesalainen and Gustafsson before the season was paused and eventually cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A sneaky and selective goal scorer, the Czech shoots hard and at a high percentage, thanks to an uncanny ability to locate dead spots in the ice, and he is ready for a shot before the defense can mark him. He is not much of a passer but can carry the puck low into the zone. Fast and intelligent, he can play a solid defensive game as well as flexibly play all three forward positions. Reichel proved he is a legitimate prospect after coming back from an injury early last season. Now he needs to show what his ultimate ceiling could be. – TD

  1. Eric Comrie, G (Waivers: Dec. 19, 2019. Originally: 59th overall, 2013 [Winnipeg]. Previous ranking: UR)

Always some team’s idea of a great third goaltender, someone you are comfortable subbing in for an injured regular for a month, but he now has 211 games of professional experience under his belt already and he still hasn’t definitively stamped out a claim for a regular NHL job. Comrie is a well-coached, technically competent netminder. His physical tools are only adequate though, which tells me that he is fairly likely to be maximizing his potential. If he can prove that wrong, he wouldn’t be the first goalie to bloom in his mid-20’s or later, but it doesn’t look likely. He can be a little stiff, with chunky movements, but the aforementioned technical ability along with a composed demeanor and never-quit approach, helps Comrie not get any less than his maximum. He doesn’t have any one obvious weakness, but likewise there is little to suggest he is ready for a bigger role. – RW

  1. Pavel Kraskovsky, C (164th overall, 2014. Previous ranking: 16)

Just as Kraskovsky seems to have lost a step from the peak of his prospectdom, he is taking a step forward as an offensive force in Russia. He was always correctly viewed as a defensive specialist, considering his career high through five full seasons in the KHL, where his career high was 18 points. Perhaps his first few months this year are portending of his turning a corner, but it isn’t likely. He has soft hands and plays the puck well, but his feel for finishing – not to mention his lengthy track record in that domain – is usually well below par. As he recently signed a two year extension with his lifelong club, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, this will be the last we report on Kraskovsky in this space, but even if he does one day come to North America, his ceiling would be as a low offense fourth liner who might be able to help out on the penalty kill. It’s not nothing, but it likely will be nothing for Winnipeg. – RW

  1. Henri Nikkanen, C (113th overall, 2019. Previous ranking: 18)

Another big, European center with a questionable offensive skill, there is a greater chance that Nikkanen has a greater ceiling than Kraskovsky, but also a greater chance that he never even reaches what Kraskovsky is capable of. Nikkanen put up impressive numbers in the Finnish junior ranks, but he doesn’t really have any big tools that provide confidence that he can continue to produce against men, when the game gets quicker. His skill with the puck, controlling in confined spaces, does give him a chance to get some action on a fourth line, with the caveat that despite his impressive size, he is not an aggressive player, which is to say that he is less likely to be supplement those bottom line minutes with time on the penalty kill. He also needs to show that he can keep up with the quicker pace physically, as his feet can seem heavy at times. What Nikkanen has working in his favor is his young age, giving him time to gain comfort in his physique. - RW