Drafting, developing and building a professional sports franchise is never an exact science. Every team employs countless scouts to evaluate players from everywhere in the world. Teams take advice from trusted sources who tell them who they should be drafting. Sometimes even dumb luck comes into play. Sometimes teams miss the mark on a player by a country mile. There really is in the grand scheme of things, very few “Can’t Miss” prospects.
Every team has it’s lists of busts. And they became that way for various reasons. The Winnipeg Jets are very aware of that too. So what is their formula in attempting to build a contender?
Way back in April of 2012, Winnipeg Jets General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, after the Jets were eliminated from the playoffs after their first season in Winnipeg, told the media a couple of things that he kept his word on. First off, the Jets needed to get bigger. In time, the trade from Buffalo that brought defenceman Tyler Meyers, (6’8”) to Winnipeg and the drafting of another d-man Logan Stanley, (6’7”) were prime examples he wasn’t joking. Joining Dustin Byfuglien, (who at 6’5” was no fly weight himself), Cheveldayoff wanted his team to have a presence on the blue line that the opposition had to pay attention too.
And Chevy also said back then he wanted to hand over the future of the Jets to the youth. In the six years he’s been at the helm, we’ve seen the Jets draft the likes of Mark Scheifele, Adam Lowry, Jacob Trouba, Connor Hellebuyck, Josh Morrissey, Nic
Petan, Nikolaj Ehlers, Kyle Connor and Patrik Laine, (just to name a few), who look to factor in as major contributors to the 2017/18 Jets team.
So as they say, on paper, they have acquired some talent. So how is that going to translate onto the ice?
No one knows yet. Not even the Jets.
But that’s what it’s all about. The not knowing. Finding out as a franchise what your assets are all about and their will to compete. Call it heart if you want.
When Mark Scheifele turned some heads recently and said he wants to be as good as Sydney Crosby, some scoffed. But as a fan, isn’t that what you want to hear from Scheifele? He set the bar for himself at a level where he wants to be considered the best in the world at his position, along with the championships to go with it. What’s wrong with that?
If you listen to what’s being said in the Jets camp lately, confidence isn’t an issue in Winnipeg.
At the Jets Fan Fest recently, Chveldayoff once again took the stage and made it clear to all in attendance. The Jets are now in “Win Now” mode. They see a window of opportunity within the Central Division and the Western Conference and like their chances.
As Chevy pointed out to the crowd that night:
“You never ultimately know where the path is going to take you. Teams gauge success differently. Sometimes it’s make the playoffs, sometimes it’s obviously going a couple of rounds, and of course winning the cup. The expectations here are very, very high.”
“Last year, we had 40 wins, Nashville had 41 wins, and they went to the cup final. We say to our guys, “Just control what’s in front of you”.
“Ultimately, we want to win the Stanley Cup. That’s the ultimate measure of success.”
And getting back to young players who didn’t always pan out. Chevy has his own theory on that. He pointed out:
“When we took over the team, (in 2011), and looked at the roster, we needed to find out who the long term Jets would be. There’s a time frame that moves on and certain players move along. There are players that you want to be part of the core, and to grow with you and develop.”
“After two years, Mark Scheifele was ready to come in. Jacob Trouba came in after one year of being drafted. Nik Ehlers came in after one year of being drafted. Not everybody is a Patrik Laine that can step right in and make a difference.”
“What we have said, and maybe this is the patient side of it – we would like to take the proper steps to develop our players. We weren’t going to push them in, just to say our young players are playing. We’ve seen it all too often. You’ve seen it from within the players in our organization. Players we inherited. Players that didn’t quite achieve the level of their draft position or draft status in college or junior hockey. That approach, the patient approach I think is going to help us with that Win Now attitude.”
So how does that translate into winning games? Having a great level of confidence in your development of youth is great, but will it create W’s on the stat sheet? Chevy is a firm believer that the key to the playoffs for the Jets is to stay healthy. The desire to compete is there, and the veterans are on board with that. As he pointed out that night:
“The growth of our team, and the resiliency of some of the veteran players that we have. The desire of a player like Blake Wheeler when he says, “It’s Our Time.”
“The conversations I’ll share with you about free agency when the players we do sign say, “I signed with you guys because I think of what we can do together.”
“And those are the kind of things that have me believe you have to go out and play. When the fantasy guys go out and project everything. Or when you have the second most man game’s lost ton injury, it’s very difficult. But I believe we have the ability within that room. As long as we stay healthy, there’s no reason we can’t be there.”
We now know the Jets appear ready for the 2017/18 season. Perhaps even more so than any season before. Gone are past issues with troubled players, (Evander Kane). A change in coaches, (Claude Noel fired and replaced by Paul Maurice). Contract issues that distracted the team, (Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien). Hold outs, (Jacob Trouba last season). Now they have a clean slate going into this campaign.
And they have apparent clear direction. The draft and develop program they preached since day one may finally be coming into fruition. The excellent young core they have molded these past six years, along with a group of veterans who have bought into the idea they can win now have brought this team into new territory.
They really do believe they can win. And win now.
And that’s something Jets fans have been waiting to hear since 2011.