MONTREAL – Mark Hillier can finally exhale, albeit for a moment.
The director of amateur scouting for the Winnipeg Jets was able to make seven selections in the 2022 NHL Draft at the Bell Center and that pick included four forwards, two right-handed shooting defenders and a late-round goalkeeper.
After being limited to a combined eight choices during the past two virtual drafts, it was clear that one of the main goals for an organization that always prided itself on concept, development and retention was that it was time to replenish the prospect pool. .
That process for Hillier and his Scouting staff involved relying on their judgment of a pair of first-rounders, one of whom has to openly improve his skating (Rutger McGroarty) and another about a man who was once projected as a surefire Top-5 roster that ended up being available 30th overall (Brad Lambert).
“I don’t know if careful is the right word, but we’re doing our homework, aren’t we? We’re doing as much as we can in the background,” says Hillier, who hopes to pull the plug a bit before work heats up for the 2023 draft class. “What the different scenarios are, what happened to happened to him, what he embarks on. At the end of the day, when you feel comfortable there is always a small risk, but there is always a reward, right? So we think the reward outweighs the risk and we make the choice.
“Yes, it was nice to have a full roster. You know, there were all kinds of conversations about different lists or opinions that were very different from other teams and so on. We had a pretty tight list. Things went pretty well together. And we have seven good players that we’re excited about.”
Of the three teams he was qualified for last season, McGroarty managed to score 58 goals and score 111 points in 85 games and Hillier made it clear that the choice would not have been made had the Jets been concerned in the long run. his skates.
“A better skater with the puck on his stick, and he’s a determined kid with a great work ethic. He’s going to do everything he can to get better,” Hillier said. “He had the plan in place when we spoke to him at the combine. Nothing in my eyes that is technically wrong with his stride. He just needs to get a little faster. I am confident he will. We have a stubborn, competitive kid here that I hope is a Winnipeg Jet for a long time to come. He’s the type of player everyone wants on their depth map. They are kind of a dying breed. To get a legit force forward, I’m excited about that.
“He didn’t wipe the smile from his face, it’s from ear to ear. Everyone says how high his character is, his guts and determination. But he also scored 50 goals in the combined seasons and events this year. Really happy to add a man of his spunk and character with his combined skill level and scoring ability. He scores a lot of dirty goals from the corners to the net, high slot. He plays the offside half wall on the power play, he has a good shot, a good one timer. Lots of great goals (from) the blue paint around the net.”
As for Lambert, Hillier is excited to see what he can do next season when he is expected to play for the Seattle Thunderbirds of the Western Hockey League with fellow Jets draft pick Tyrel Bauer (who is the captain of the Thunderbirds and was chosen in the sixth round in 2020).
“I think he is the best skater with the best speed,” said Hillier. “He didn’t have a good year, that’s no secret. We told the boy not to worry about what happened last year, we believe in you, we took you. You’re going to start here and hopefully he has a great year of development ahead of him.
“I think he’s hard on himself that he fell. He didn’t have a great year, a lot of factors were involved. He wasn’t in a great development situation. He takes some ownership of that. In the future I think that he will be in a better place next year, just look for better things and a high ceiling.”
Day 2 of the NHL Draft saw the Jets finish with a pair of left-handed shooting two-way centers, a pair of right-handed shooting defenders, and a keeper with personality who heard a huge roar from a group of family members and supporters who lingered until the seventh and final round .
Danny Zhilkin of the Guelph Storm moved to Canada from Russia when he was nine years old after attending a hockey camp in the Toronto area, eventually finishing with the Toronto Junior Canadiens.
“In 2013, I was nine years old and I was here (in Canada) for two weeks. At first we came to the camp just for two weeks and didn’t expect much from it. My family brought me here and the coach saw me and asked me to play for the team the following year. We went back, packed up and moved here,” said Zhilkin, who had 23 goals and 55 points in 66 games last season and trained with fitness guru and longtime NHL player Gary Roberts. “I don’t remember much at that age. In the beginning it was difficult to speak English. I think it probably took me two or three years to learn it because I knew zero English when I got here. Incredible experience and obviously this is a step in the right direction.
“Two or three years ago I never really thought this was possible. It’s unbelievable. I am super grateful.”
The other center in charge is Fabian Wagner, the sixth-rounder, who qualified for Linkoping HC in the Swedish junior league last season.
In the second round, the Jets faced Swedish defender Elias Salomonsson, who won a gold medal at the Men’s U18 World Championship and recently signed a two-year deal to play for Skelleftea.
Salomonsson referred to Seattle Kraken blue-liner and compatriot Adam Larsson as a man to whom he follows his game.
“I’d almost call him an elite skater, a puck-moving defender,” Hillier said. “He is playing with an edge and some sandpaper in front of him. Hard hitter, has no high end on the skill, but decent stats. He has a good shot. I think he’s going to be a man who takes care of his own goal first, moves the puck and plays hard.”
The second D-man chosen by the Jets was Garrett Brown, who won a USHL championship last season with the Sioux City Musketeers.
Brown, whose father Curtis played 736 regular season games for the Buffalo Sabers, Chicago Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks, plans to return to the Musketeers before joining the University of Denver Pioneers for the 2023 campaign. -24.
The Jets had not drafted a goalkeeper since Logan Neaton in 2019, and Domenic DiVincentiis has just completed his first full season with the Ontario Hockey League’s North Bay Battalion.
DiVicentiis has a connection to McGroarty, having played on a number of youth hockey tournament teams together and living and training together for a while during the pandemic.
“In the run-up to the draft you don’t know where the goalkeepers will land. Obviously, having a COVID year where there was no hockey in the OHL affected being a goalkeeper, a player in that league. So for me, there was a lot to think about, but you know what… I couldn’t miss my chance to be here,” said DiVicentiis, answering a question about whether or not to attend the design in Montreal. “Of course do you have moments in the back of your mind when you think you might not be called up but…that won’t stop me If I hadn’t been called up I would have kept pushing and pushing even harder to be called up or to be called up next year drawing as a free agent So for me it didn’t really bother me if I wouldn’t be called up due to the fact that it was my dream to get called up and be here.
“I know my dad just finished whispering to me that if you don’t get called, the hard work continues and you leave this place with a chip on your shoulder and your chin up, and you thank everyone who helped I come here You just go right back to work But of course when my name was mentioned I’m still a little bit in shock now I’m a little shaky Like I said it’s really an honor to have a Jet and I can’t wait to get started.”
With the draft in the rearview mirror, the focus of the Jets quickly turns to upgrading the workforce.
In the days leading up to the opening of free agency on Wednesday, you can expect the Jets to be actively considering bringing in an experienced defender and many eyes are on what will happen to Captain Blake Wheeler.
Wheeler, who spent the past 12 seasons with the organization and went back to trading in 2010 to the Atlanta Thrashers, has two years left on the five-year contract he signed with an average annual value of $8.25 million and there is a strong belief that both player and team are ready to move on from each other – provided the right fit can be found.
Another situation that should be closely monitored is the position of the reserve goalkeeper.
While the Jets have made an offer to keep Eric Comrie, the deal isn’t finalized yet, so you’d expect the 2013 second-rounder to at least wait until the free agency opens to see what other offers are out there before he makes his final decision.
Comrie is coming off his best season as a pro (10-5-1 record, with a .920 rescue rate and a 2.58 average against the 19 game average) and could be on the radar of several teams looking to a capable backup .