Jets draft two players who could show up with IceCaps this fall

Brendan McCarthy
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Given that the National Hockey League Entry Draft mostly involves the selection of 18-year-olds, or soon-to-be 18-year-olds, hockey fans in American Hockey League cities generally have to wait at least two or three years to get a first-hand look at players chosen in any given draft.

However, two of the picks made by the Winnipeg Jets Sunday in Newark, N.J. — forward J.C. Lipon and Brenden Kichton —  could wind up with the AHL's St. John's IceCaps this fall.

With one of their two third-round choices Sunday, the Jets tagged Lipon, a right-winger who had 36 goals and 53 assists in 61 games for the Western Hockey League's Kamloops Blazers last season. He also had a plus-34 rating and 115 penalty minutes, second-most on the Blazers.

Because he turns 20 on July 10, Lipon is eligible to play in the AHL this year.

Although he had been passed over in the two previous NHL drafts, the six-foot, 180-pound Lipon caused scouts to take a second (or third look) over the winter, not just due to his performance with the Blazers, but also because the Regina native earned an invitation to the Canadian junior team selection camp and beat the odds by making the team as a checking forward.

Kichton had actually been drafted two years ago, in the fifth round by the New York Islanders, but the six-foot, 190-pound rearguard and Islanders never reached agreement on a contract and he re-entered the draft process this year.

The Spruce Grove, Alta., native was taken in the seventh round by Winnipeg on Sunday, but if Kichton can translate his junior successes into the pro ranks, the Jets may have found great value in the pick.

Kichton was named the WHL's top defenceman last season, beating out Toronto Maple Leafs' prospect Morgan Rielly for those honours. The team captain in Kamloops last season, he was also a West Conference all-star, joining Portland Winterhawks defenceman Seth Jones on the all-conference blueline.

Jones was the fourth overall pick by the Nashville Predators Sunday, while Kichton went 185 selections later.

Reasons for that marked difference? Well, for one thing, Kichton, who turned 21 last month, is more than three years older than Jones. Another may be a perceived lack of physicality; Kichton had just 30 PIMs last season and never any more than 49 in any of his five WHL seasons

But the left-shooting Kichton, who was also the WHL's Western Conference defenceman of the year in 2011-12, is a superb puck-mover and a power-play dynamo. Those skills helped him produce big offensive numbers with the WHL's Spokane Chiefs over the last three years, a total of 62 goals and 178 assists for 240 points in 206 games. He was plus-118 over that stretch.

Last season, Kitchen had 22 goals and 63 assists to go along with a team-topping plus-39 rating. His 85 points led the Chiefs and all WHL defencemen in scoring with 85 points, including 22 goals. In fact, he had 19 more points than the second-highest scoring blueliner in the league.

While Lipon could conceivably return to the junior ranks next season, Kichton has used up his junior eligibility.

The Jets made eight other selections Sunday, all of them players with birthdays that have them turning 18 or 19 in this calendar year. Winnipeg also concentrated on the major junior ranks, with seven of their 10 overall choices coming from CHL clubs.

Those other choices include another WHL defenceman, Josh Morrissey, the 13th overall pick in Sunday's NHL draft, centre Nicolas Petan (Portland, WHL), goaltender Eric Comrie (Tri-City, WHL), centre Jimmy Lodge (Saginaw, OHL), centre Andrew Copp (University of Michigan, NCAA), defenceman Jan Kostalek (Rimouski, QMJHL), defenceman Tucker Poolman (Omaha, USHL) and defenceman Marcus Karlstrom (AIK, Swedish U18).

The Jets also acquired forward Michael Frolik from the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks for third and fifth-round picks Sunday. 

Organizations: Western Hockey League, Winnipeg Jets, American Hockey League National Hockey League Entry Draft NHL New York Islanders Toronto Maple Leafs Nashville Predators University of Michigan NCAA

Geographic location: Newark, N.J., St. John's, Winnipeg Regina Spruce Grove Portland

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