Winnipeg has had success bringing their own prospects from the draft to the NHL. Some take longer than others, but the organization has shown patience, and consistent decision making in how they handle their prized players. The Jets will hope for significant steps this season from past first round picks including Ville Heinola and Cole Perfetti as a method of reloading their roster. In particular, allowing Perfetti the benefit of the doubt in a top six role seems timely. With the strength of Winnipeg’s current top six, allowing another home grown talent to make his mark will give the team flexibility, and the injury insurance that has become an issue in recent seasons.
Nikita Chibrikov, F - Bringing Chibrikov to the American Hockey League would be wise for the organization. After proving he can compete against men, scoring 31 points in 28 games in Russia’s VHL, the feeder system to the KHL, Chibrikov is ready for a new challenge. In the few opportunities he’s had to showcase himself internationally against his peers, Chibrikov was dominant, including captaining Russia and scoring 13 points in 7 games at the 2020 men’s World U18 Championships. Physically, he still needs to add strength, but the vision and passing skills in Chibrikov’s arsenal make him a prospect of note.
Ville Heinola, D - Calculated, positional, and foundationally built on reliable decision making, Heinola is often at his best when you don’t even notice he’s there. His offense did grow this season, primarily through his skill to find the net through seams, generating loose pucks and rebound opportunities for his teammates. He’s ready to be in the NHL after three seasons of call up action, but a group of six NHL experienced defenders sit in front of him on the depth chart, and stay-at-home defender Dylan Samberg is also pushing for time.
Chaz Lucius, F - A one-and-done at the NCAA level, Lucius had a slow start to his NCAA season with the University of Minnesota, but showed growth in the second half of the season. The Kansas product was the 18th overall pick in 2021, showcasing his combination of offensive zone vision and playmaking, along with a quick release. His skating, although improved, is still a concern and will continue to be his major hurdle in stepping up to the pro level.
Ready To Step In
The 10th overall pick in 2020, Cole Perfetti’s time is now. He thinks the game at an elite level, and when the puck is on his stick, he can manipulate lanes and deceive opponents with the best of them. Given the opportunity, Perfetti could become a powerplay specialist for his passing alone, but he is an underrated scorer as well. There is no significant weakness in Perfetti’s game; he simply has yet to “click” in the NHL. His most recent campaign, which featured 18 games with the Jets, demonstrated significant growth in the second-year pro. On defense, Heinola and Samberg can step in as well, although Winnipeg’s depth will keep at least one of the organization’s top defensive prospects on the farm for another season. 2017 first-round pick Kristian Vesalainen is returning to Europe to hopefully regain the confidence lost in North America. His step back will could be short lived, but creates a gap in Winnipeg’s forward prospect pool.
One To Watch
Pushing the play and pushing the pace, Dmitri Rashevsky would not have looked out of place in Winnipeg’s bottom-six this season. After being passed over in two straight NHL drafts, and never representing Russia internationally, the Jets took a flier on Rashevsky in the fifth round in 2021 and it could turn into a home run. Stepping into the KHL this season, Rashevsky scored 19 goals and 35 points in 48 games for Dynamo Moscow. If Winnipeg can find a way to get the forward to North America, he could get a chance to play immediately. At worst, he will provide energy in a depth role with offensive ability.
Needs At The Draft
With Kristian Vesalainen heading back to Europe, Winnipeg is likely to take a crack at one of the skilled forwards who will be available at the lucky number 13 in the draft. Alternatively, Winnipeg is in a range where the second tier of defenders in the draft could come into play. Stacked down the middle, a natural winger is the likely fit. That said, should he still be available, Winnipeg Ice forward and Manitoba product Conor Geekie, although a center in junior, would be a nice local pick. His 6’4” frame would also fit the size lost in Vesalainen. In their next picks, the Jets can target a defender who may need a few seasons to develop as their core blueline group is signed through 2023-2024 and beyond.
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