When it comes to the Winnipeg Jets, it is almost impossible to not smile when you look back at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship. On top of watching Team Canada bring home their first Gold at the tournament since 2009, Jets' fans were given the opportunity to watch six of their teams top prospects do their thing on the world stage and they had to have been thrilled with how things played out.
Edmonton - January 10, 2015 - Another World Junior Championships is in the books for hockey fans the world over, but for Winnipeg Jets fans this was an extra special event.
Not only did Canada come home with its first gold medal since 2009, but their NHL team made the biggest contribution to the talent pool at the tournament.
Altogether, Winnipeg saw six of their prospects perform on the largest junior hockey stage, all of which bodes well for its club’s future.
But how did each individual perform? Did the tourney give a clearer perspective on the future of the Jets’ elite prospects? Let’s briefly review the Jets’ prospects who competed and see if the kids really are alright.
Chase De Leo (C) - 2014 Fourth Round (99th Overall)
Performance: After two sub-20 goal seasons with a very deep Portland Winterhawks team, De Leo exploded for 39 goals in his draft year, and is on pace for another 30 goal 80 point plus season. One of Gretztky’s kids (hockey speaking), De Leo carries a California birth certificate, and played some of his minor hockey down there.
Impact at WJC: De Leo didn’t do a lot but didn’t look bad either. He did score once in five games and helped Team USA defeat Finland in a very tight 2-1 game where he scored in the shootout.
Future Impact: De Leo is on the small side at 5’10 175lbs but is skilled and should play in the top nine if he makes it. He is still at least 2-3 years away from making a pro-debut with the Jets…if at all.
Eric Comrie (G) - 2013 Second Round (59th Overall)
Performance: Comrie has already played four seasons of major junior, including two games with the Jets AHL affiliate last year. He is generally considered to be one of the top two goalies in the WHL, a title he shares with Pittsburgh Penguins draft pick Tristan Jarry. Playing for an improved Tri-City Americans team, he had 14 wins in 24 games and a .921 save percentage heading into the World Juniors.
Impact at WJC: Most observers expected Canada to go with the more experienced Zach Fucale for the key games, however, Fucale had rebound control issues and that opened the door for the Edmonton native. Comrie played well when given the opportunity but was not severely tested by an overwhelmed German side in his debut. His appearance against the Americans looked to be his time to shine and while he played well, he did allow a bit of a stinker to get past him in the third. That goal led to some tense moments and the opportunity to take the starter position evaporated just as quickly as it appeared.
Future Impact: Goalies take time to develop, so expecting NHL starts anytime within the next 3 -4 years could be a bit of a stretch. At 19 he has played a lot of hockey and looks to be mentally strong, which is a huge part of the pro game for a goalie. Comrie will likely make it to the NHL, but as a starter or backup . . . that remains to be seen. The potential is definitely there but time will tell.
Jan Kostalek (D) - 2013 Fourth Round (114th Overall)
Performance: After playing some junior with Sparta Praha in the Czech Republic, Kostalek transitioned to Rimouski in the “Q”and his points production has rose steadily every year. He notched 27 points in 55 games in 2013-14 and was on close to a point per game pace leading up to the tournament this season.
Impact at WJC: Kostalek had a strong tournament, registering three points in five games and appeared to have the ability to raise his level of play when the game required it. In the matchup against the Russians, which was crucial to the Czech Republic advancing to the playoff round, Kostalek registered a pair of assists. While the Czechs would eventually fall the Slovaks, Kostalek did not look out of place at all.
Future impact: Kostalek still needs to fill out but he’s right on track. He could play in the pros next year but after that, it will be up to him to develop into as good a player as he possibly can. If he shows well, he could see some time with the big club in a couple of years’ time. The kid has skill but still needs some physical maturity.
Nikolaj Ehlers (LW) - 2014 First Round (9th Overall)
Performance: Scored 104 points for the Halifax Mooseheads in the QJMHL last year and this season has been scoring at a 2+ points per game clip.
Impact at WJC: Ehlers is an offensively gifted forward and seems to make something happen every time he touches the puck, leading Denmark to its best ever finish in the tournament. Ehlers finished second in team scoring but was clearly his country’s best player. Denmark has certainly taken some huge strides forward and Ehlers can take a sizeable chunk of credit for that progress.
Future Impact: Ehlers has all the skill to play in the NHL immediately but none of the physical maturity. He’s listed at 163 pounds and would need to put a minimum of fifteen pounds before turning pro. At minimum he needs to play in St. John’s next year.
Josh Morrissey (D) - 2012 First Round (13th Overall)
Performance: One of Prince Albert’s only offensive threats since he joined the team. Morrissey was a workhorse for the Raiders but after being moved to the Kelowna Rockets, the talented blueliner is now in a position where he can challenge for a Memorial Cup crown.
Impact at WJC: During Canada’s pre-tournament games Morrissey showed his athletic class, regularly carrying the mail to his elite forwards. Overall he scored four points in the seven game and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. But in my observation something was missing from his game, specifically the physical aspect. When things got down and dirty against the big beastly Russian forwards, Morrissey was much less of a factor and was outshone by teammate Darnell Nurse. Nonetheless, he was one of the top defensemen at the WJC and was voted to NHL.com’s all tournament team.
Future Impact: I would predict Morrissey to make the Jets in roughly two years. Just like many of the Jets other prospects, Morrissey still needs to mature physically but he certainly has all the necessary tools in the toolbox to be a very good player.
Nicolas Petan (C) - 2013 Second Round (43rd Overall)
Performance: One of the most prolific scorers on one of the most prolific teams in the WHL, this Portland Winterhawks forward is on track for a third consecutive 100 point season in major junior hockey. ‘Nuff said.
Impact at WJC: Petan at times was prolific, scoring 11 points in the tournament, good for second place in scoring. Certainly one of the best stories at the WJC was his hat trick with his parents in attendance in Canada’s playoff game against Slovakia. His skills are elite, but I can’t say he was clutch in tournament. Of his eleven points, six were scored in his two games against Slovakia. Against top competition like Russia and the U.S. his production dropped off. Nonetheless he was one of the top scorers in the tournament and has loads of potential.
Future Impact: I had projected Petan to have potentially made the Jets this past season based on his skill set, but I was way off. I still think he could make the team next year and with Winnipeg not exactly being a team of shrinking violets, they should be more than capable to compensate for his lack of size.
General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has to be beaming like a proud papa seeing so many of his prospects participating in the premier U-20 tournament. While none of the Jets prospects were recognized as being tops at their position during the World Juniors, no other NHL club had as many prospects participating in the tournament. Certainly all the youngsters will need more seasoning to make an impact at the pro level but something tells me the organization will be more than happy to let them progress at their own pace.