Is bigger better? Winnipeg aims to find out

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Jets have some serious size on prospects team

Winnipeg — At a little over six foot six without skates, left-winger Axel Blomqvist has to duck when he walks through doors at the Winnipeg Jets’ practice facility in full gear.

The 18 year old from Sweden, who weighs in at around 220 pounds, played last season in the Western Hockey League, but went undrafted in June. He did get an invitation to the Jets’ prospects camp, which began Thursday in Winnipeg.

Cody Sol, meanwhile, a 22-year-old, 235-pound defenceman drafted by the Atlanta Thrashers in 2009, comes in at 6-5, as does forward Adam Lowry, a 2011 Jets draft pick.

Thursday’s prospects practice showcased a little of the size waiting in the wings of the NHL franchise, and Winnipeg general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said it isn’t by accident.

“We’ve done a decent job I think at looking at trying to increase our size over the couple of drafts that we’ve had,” he said as the prospects prepared to fly to Penticton, B.C., for a tournament that begins today with a game against an entry representing the San Jose Sharks.

But Cheveldayoff added he looks for more than just size in prospects.

“We look at a lot of things that create the outline of a hockey player and, certainly, if you have the opportunity to gain a lot of the aspects that we look for, and size being one of them, then you jump at it.”

Blomqvist’s first year with the WHL’s Lethbridge Hurricanes, where he finished with 39 points in 59 games was a “bit of a learning experience.”

“It’s a different game over here,” he said. “Last year taught me a lot.”

As an 18-year-old out of the major junior ranks, Blomqvist can’t play minor pro this season, but would be happy if he can impress enough to get signed by the Jets.

“It was a little disappointing not being drafted so, (when) I got the call from Winnipeg, it was a really nice feeling,” he said.

Cheveldayoff said this is a great chance to evaluate players like Blomqvist against those already in the system as well as prospects from other organizations at the Vancouver Young Stars tournament in Penticton, where they’ll also face teams from  the Canucks and Edmonton Oilers.

“Sometimes, you can find players that maybe have been passed over or were looked at in different lights at different points in time but ... we’re real excited to have him here,” he said.

Sol bounced between the ECHL and American Hockey League  last season, and is hoping to find a more steady role with the St. John’s IceCaps, Winnipeg’s AHL farm team.

“This year I’ve got to be consistent and I’ve got to fight for a spot,” said Sol, who says getting his speed to where it needs to be has been the challenge, given his size.

“I’m getting leaner, I’m getting faster, so I’ll just keep working at it.”

While by no means small at a relatively modest six-foot-two, forward Mark Scheifele (2011 draft) and defenceman Jacob Trouba (2012 draft) are probably the two players at camp closest to being NHL ready.

Scheifele, 20, has already had two cracks, but was sent back for a little more seasoning to the OHL, where he blossomed into a major force for the Barrie Colts during the playoffs last season.

Trouba, a year younger, picked up valuable international experience playing for the United States at the world junior hockey championship, on top of an outstanding all-star season at the University of Michigan.

At the world juniors, where he helped the U.S. win the gold medal, he was named the tournament’s best defenceman.

Trouba is 19, but as a college product, could play with the IceCaps this season. However, both he and Scheifele, who could also end up in St. John’s, insist they’re not dwelling on where they might be this fall.

“I put pressure on myself but again, I’m playing hockey and I made it this far just trying to enjoy the game and enjoy the whole process,” said Trouba.

“It’s kind of still my mindset to just have fun out there.

“Because, at the end of the day, it’s just a game and it’s supposed to be played to have some fun.”

 

 

Organizations: Winnipeg Jets, Western Hockey League, NHL Atlanta Thrashers IceCaps Vancouver Young Stars Canucks Edmonton Oilers ECHL and American Hockey League University of Michigan.At

Geographic location: Winnipeg, Penticton, Sweden Winnipeg.Cody Sol United States OHL

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