Taking stock of the bluechips

Brendan McCarthy
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If Josh Morrissey and the Prince Albert Raiders lose to the Red Deer Rebels in tonight’s Western Hockey League tie-breaker for the eighth and final playoff spot in the major junior circuit’s Eastern Conference, the Winnipeg Jets 2013 first-round draft pick could join the St. John’s IceCaps sooner rather than later.

IceCaps could soon be welcoming Jets prospects like Josh Morrissey and others to St. John’s

Most local hockey fans wouldn’t have much reason to pay attention to a particular Western Hockey League game, but it may be a different case when it comes to the WHL tiebreaker in Red Deer, Alta., tonight.
The Red Deer Rebels are hosting the Prince Albert Raiders in a game to decide the eighth and final playoff spot in the WHL’s Eastern Conference. (The Raiders and Rebels each finished with 75 points; Red Deer got home ice for tonight’s game, having won three of the four regular-season meetings).

There may be something at stake for followers of the AHL’s St. John’s IceCaps because the Prince Albert lineup features Winnipeg Jets 2013 first-round draft pick and Canadian world junior defenceman Josh Morrissey. There’s a very good chance that whenever the Raiders’ season is finished, whether that’s tonight or sometime in the future, Morrissey will be the joining the IceCaps.

Morrissey who turns 19 later this month, was the 13th overall pick of the 2013 draft, had 28 goals and 73 points for the Raiders this season and was named the team’s top defenceman and co-MVP this past weekend.

The Prince Albert team captain, Morrissey is signed to an entry-level contract by the Jets, but while he could conceivably start next season with Winnipeg, he has another year of regular junior eligibility, meaning he can’t begin the 2014-15 campaign in the AHL.

•••

This is the time of the year when the AHL begins to see a steady inflow of NHL draft picks from major junior and U.S. college teams, along with undrafted free agents. Some like Morrissey, already have contracts, but the majority will be signed to amateur tryouts.

In a few instances, the arriving player may be counted on to play a regular contributing role to the AHL club. However, in most cases, his presence is designed to help him acclimate to a pro organization that he could join permanently sometime the future, or to give the team a chance to determine whether he has the potential to warrant a contract.

Morrissey is one of four Winnipeg draft picks playing in the WHL already signed by the Jets.  The other three — goaltender Eric Comrie (Tri-City), centre Ryan Olsen (Kelowna) and centre Nic Petan (Portland) —  are headed to the playoffs, but like Morrissey, are candidates to join St. John’s if their junior seasons end before the IceCaps’.

Olsen — set to turn pro next season — and Petan — the WHL’s second-leading scorer who doesn’t turn 19 until next week — are with the two top seeds in the WHL’s Western Conference. The 18-year-old Comrie has played in 60 of the 72 games for eighth-seeded Tri-City, which will face Olsen and Kelowna in the first round.

The Jets have two other signed players in the major junior ranks.

Undrafted Swedish forward Alex Blomqvist is with the WHL’s Victoria Cougars, also about to start the playoffs, while Scott Kosmachuk of the Guelph Storm, the top team in the Ontario Hockey League, had 48 goals and 100 points in the regular season, finishing third in both categories among OHL players. Kosmachuk turned 20 in January, meaning he’ll enter the pro ranks, most likely with the IceCaps, in the fall.

Unsigned Jets’ draft picks playing major junior are forward Jimmy Lodge of the OHL’s Saginaw Spirits as well as defenceman and Czech world junior player Jan Kostalek of the QMJHL’s Rimouski Oceanic. They, too, are about to enter the playoffs.

Not all, but most, of the above would be candidates to hook up with the IceCaps this spring, although many could go deep into their junior playoff seasons — Petan, Olsen, Kosmachuk and Kostalek are all members of teams ranked in the top 10 in all of major junior hockey.

•••

The Jets also have a number of draft picks playing NCAA hockey in the States, but only one who will definitely graduate from the college ranks this year. That’s forward Jordan Samuels-Thomas of Qunnipiac, which will play in the ECAC semifinals starting next weekend.

Samuels-Thomas is actually one of the last few Atlanta Thrashers draft picks still on the Jets’ reserve list and outside the pro ranks. Winnipeg must decide whether to sign the 23-year-old by August.

The Jets had to make a similar call last season on Vinny Saponari, another one-time Thrashers’ pick, after he finished up university. They brought Saponari to St. John’s on a tryout deal and he played seven games for St. John’s, however he was not ultimately signed (he ended up in Nashville’s organization playing with the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals).

Two other NCAA players worth noting are forward Andrew Copp of the University of Michigan, who played for the American team at this year’s world junior championship, and goaltender Connor Hellebuyck of the UMass-Lowell, for whom he has posted a 35-11-2 record, 1.63 goals-against average and .944 save percentage over two seasons.

Both Copp and Hellebuyck have two seasons of NCAA eligibility remaining, although it is not uncommon for some university players to turn pro before graduation.

The AHL is also full of players from the NCAA ranks who were never drafted. On the IceCaps, there are no fewer than seven — Kael Mouillierat, Blair Riley, Kyle MacKinnon, Josh Lunden, Jamie MacQueen, Cody Lampl and Jussi Olkinuora —  although Olkinuora, signed last spring after two years at the University of Denver, is the only one on an NHL deal.

All seven turned pro weeks after leaving college, with each of them, except for Lampl, starting out in the AHL.

St. John’s has four players — team captain Jason Jaffray, Jerome Samson, Jordan Hill and Ryan Schnell — who played major junior and were never drafted. Hill is the only one who turned pro the same season as his last junior campaign, appearing in a couple of games for the AHL’s Manitoba Moose in 2009-10. 

bmcc@thetelegram.com

 

The following is a list of Winnipeg Jets’ draft picks and signed prospects playing at the amateur levels in 2013-14. Not everyone listed will play in the Jets’ organization and some will probably not be in the professional ranks at all. What’s more, with Winnipeg moving its minor-league operations from St. John’s as soon 2015, the number who will have the opportunity to suit up for the AHL IceCaps is further limited. Nevertheless more than a few could see some ice time with St. John’s over the next year or so. Of the players in the major junior (CHL) ranks, forwards Scott Kosmachuk, Ryan Olsen and Lukas Sutter would be age-eligible to start the 2014-15 season in the AHL.

 

SKATERS

CHL

Player, Pos,13-14 Team   Draft1    3-14 stats

• Axel Blomqvist (F), Victoria (WHL)  Undrafted  46GP  16-27-43  14 PIMs  +24

Big (6-6) Swede signed entry-level deal after attending ‘13 training camp on a tryout

• Scott Kosmachuk (RW), Guelph (OHL)   3rd Rd ‘12  68GP  48-52-100  83 PIMs  +52

Third-leading scorer in OHL, will turn pro this fall

• Jan Kostalek (D), Rimouski (QMJHL)  4th Rd ‘13  55GP  5-22-27  40 PIMs  +10

Defensive defenceman, played for Czech Republic at ‘13 world championship

• Jimmy Lodge (C), Saginaw (OHL)  3rd Rd ‘13   59GP   19-27-46   49 PIMs  +5

Attended last U.S, world junior identification camp, did not make the team

• Josh Morrissey (D), Prince Albert (WHL)  1st Rd ‘13  58GP  28-45-73  59 PIMs  +6

Played for Canada at ‘14 world juniors, among favourites to win WHL defenceman of the year award

• Ryan Olsen (C), Kelowna (WHL)  6th Rd ‘12  71GP  30-34-64  73 PIMs  +37

Second-leading scorer on the No.1-ranked team in all of major junior hockey

• Nic Petan (C), Portland (WHL)   2nd Rd ‘13  63GP  35-78-113  69 PIMs  +47

Second-leading scorer in WHL, Portland co-MVP, played for Canada at ‘14 world junior championship

• Lukas Sutter (C), Red Deer (WHL)   2nd Rd ‘12  45GP  10-13-23  74 PIMs  -6

Season was cut short by shoulder surgery, member of famed Sutter clan, not yet signed by Jets

———

NCAA

Player, Pos,13-14 Team   Draft     13-14 stats

• Andrew Copp (C), U of Michigan  4th Rd ‘13  32GP  15-14-29   26 PIMs  +2

Sophomore forward played on U.S team at 2014 world juniors

• Aaron Harstad (D), Colorado College   7th Rd ‘11   37GP   2-7-9   37 PIMs  -12

Played for Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper with Green Bay (USHL), winning league title in ‘10

• Tanner Lane (F), Nebraska-Omaha  6th Rd ‘10 (Atl)   34GP  5-4-9   12 PIMs  -6

• Jordan Samuels-Thomas (LW), Quinnipiac  7th Rd ‘09 (Atl)  32GP  13-16-29  46 PIMs  +17

Transferred to Qunnipiac after beginning collegiate career with Bowling Green

• Brennan Serville (D), Michigan  3rd Rd ‘11  32GP  0-0-3  14 PIMs  +2

• Pete Stoykewych (D), Colorado College  7th Rd ‘10 (Atl)   37GP  1-8-9 40 PIMs  -18

Winnipeg native was named Colorado College’s most improved player last season

———

Other Leagues

Player, Pos,13-14 Team   Draft    13-14 stats

• Tucker Poolman (D), Omaha (USJHL)  5th Rd ‘13   53GP  14-25-39  21 PIMs  +18

Has committed to attend University of North Dakota next season

• Markus Karlström (D), AIK (Swedish Div.3)   7th Rd  19GP  3-19-22  39 PIMs

———

GOALIES

Player, Pos,13-14 TeamDraft13-14 stats

• Eric Comrie (G), Tri-City (WHL)  2nd Rd ‘13  60GP  26-25-9   2.57 GAA  .925 Sv%

Leading candidate to be Canada’s No. 1 goalie at next world junior championship

• Connor Hellebuyck (G), UMass-Lowell (NCAA)5th Rd ‘12  25GP 15-8-2  1.87 GAA.  938 Sv%

Hockey East goalie of the year in 12-13 on conference champion Lowell

• Jason Kasdorf (G), RPI (NCAA)  6th Rd ‘11  2GP  1-1-0   3.49 GAA  .786 Sv%

After outstanding rookie campaign at RPI in 12-13, missed almost all of this season with injury

• Jamie Phillips (G), Michigan Tech (NCAA)  7th Rd ‘12  13GP  4-6-1  2.82 GAA  .892 Sv%

Organizations: U.S. college, IceCaps, Jets Prince Albert Raiders NHL Ontario Hockey League NCAA Atlanta Thrashers Milwaukee Admirals University of Michigan University of Denver

Geographic location: Winnipeg, Tri-City, Kelowna Portland Nashville Jordan Hill

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