The Winnipeg Jets are an NHL franchise that relies on the “draft and develop” model more than most organizations. All teams, of course, rely on the draft to stockpile their prospect depth, but the Jets have a difficult time attracting free agents and getting players to agree to waive their no-trade clauses in transactions.
I want to go on record, personally, and state the opportunity to play in the NHL is not a given right. Players, in my opinion, should be grateful for any chance they get to play in the top league in the world. The Jets are a loyal and structured organization that treats its players and staff with the respect they deserve.
Here’s a look at the Jets’ draft grid for the next three years, and a deep dive into some of their more intriguing prospects:
The second-round picks the Jets relinquished in 2023 and 2024 resulted in the arrival of Brenden Dillon and Nino Niederreiter.
Rutger McGroarty, FWD
The Jets first round pick (14th overall) from last year’s draft is concluding his freshman season at NCAA Michigan. He also represented Team USA at the WJC in Halifax.
In his last 10-game segment, McGroarty has scored three goals and seven assists, and all of his points have come at even strength. What’s impressive about his production is the fact it comes at what is, arguably, the hardest time of the year (end of schedule and playoffs). McGroarty is deployed at even strength and the power play and averages over 16 minutes of ice time per game.
There isn’t a ton of deception to McGroarty’s game. He’s a straight forward player. He’s an average skater for NHL standards and is rarely a threat off the rush. He’s a heavy player along the boards, from the hash marks down in the offensive zone, and net front at even strength and on the power play. When I watch him play it amazes me how wide open he gets in the deep slot and around the opponent’s net. As much as I want to identify defensive breakdowns leading to him gaining time and space, it identifies his vision and hockey sense when finding “quiet ice”. He’s a very difficult player to move off the puck in the hard areas.
McGroarty complements linemates who push the pace. When the game slows down he extends plays and provides physical push back. He’s had a very productive season at Michigan, but he isn’t ready for NHL games yet. Another year at the college level, especially working on his explosiveness and open ice pace, will further assist with his development.
NHL Projection: Middle six, leaning top-six, power forward/power play contributor
Brad Lambert, FWD
The Jets selected Lambert 30th overall last summer at the draft. Lambert struggled in his draft year playing in Finland, and had a difficult time stringing together consistent results. He started this season at the AHL level with the Manitoba Moose before being sent to the Seattle Thunderbirds in the WHL. The move to the WHL has allowed Lambert to play to his identity. He’s much more comfortable at this level. He’s playing quick, fast, and gaining momentum with this game overall. His playmaking on the power play in Seattle has been elite.
It has to feel good to have an impact and play to his strengths again. Lambert is averaging just shy of 17 minutes per game of ice time and his primary minutes come at even strength and the power play.
Seattle is a juggernaut in the WHL. They have a chance to go on a deep playoff run and that experience will further benefit Lambert’s development.
Lambert needs time to round out his game. I’m not comfortable beating him up for his uneven season last year, or his impact with the Moose. The kid needs some positive feedback. His fresh start with the Thunderbirds gives me more hope than I had at this time last year.
NHL Projection: Top Six NHL forward if he regains his scoring confidence / Recall NHL forward if his development slips
Chaz Lucius, FWD
Before Lucius went down with a season-ending injury I had a chance to view him at the WHL level playing for Portland. He had a confident look to his game. He was tracking up and down the ice with solid pace and making plays offensively. What stood out the most was his overall strength. He was noticeably stronger than most of his teammates and opponents. Lucius was being deployed at even strength and the primary power play unit in Portland and scored five goals and 10 assists in six games.
It’s never a straight line for prospect development. Lucius left the University of Minnesota last year to turn pro. He wasn’t ready for the NHL or AHL, though, so sending him to Portland was a good decision for the player and the organization.
Lucius, the Jets’ first-round selection (18th overall) from the 2021 draft, projects as more of a two-way forward than an NHL scoring forward for me. He has been a streaky prospect. Some nights I’ve wanted more from his game and had to look for him. Other games he stands out with a combination of pace, skill, and compete. His impact with Portland was undeniable. Hopefully his upper-body injury heals well and he has time to prepare for a fresh start next fall.
NHL Projection: Middle-six forward. Leans two-way NHL player more than top-end point producer
Dmitri Rashevsky, FWD
The Jets have a very good prospect in their stable with Rashevsky. He’s been very productive playing for Moscow Dynamo in the KHL and has the skill set to potentially become a top six NHL forward.
He definitely leans offence, but his off-the-puck effort is not a massive concern. He’s at least an average defender. His offensive upside wins out on projection. Rashevsky makes plays off the rush and on the power play. He sees the ice very well. It was disappointing to hear he had signed an extension to remain in the KHL and not come to Winnipeg next season. It’s part of the frustrating process (and risk) of drafting Russian prospects who are rooted in the Russian game.
NHL Projection: Top-six forward, power play contributor, point-producing play driver
Here, now, is a higher level look at some other prospects within Winnipeg’s system and how they’re projecting right now…
Projection on Chibrikov: Top-six skill forward, power play contributor, point producer
Projection on Salomonsson: Middle-pairing, two-way transitional/power play contributor