NHL teams build their teams in many different ways. Some construct their clubs via free agency while others do it through trades. However, the main way teams create a roster is through the NHL Draft. Most years have maybe one or two players make the roster, but some years the general manager gets it right and gets a cornerstone or two for the franchise. The Last Word on Hockey is doing the best draft class for each team with the exception of the Seattle Kraken. Today we look at the Winnipeg Jets best draft class.
Winnipeg Jets Best Draft Class: 2012
Before we start, just as a reminder, this article took into account the best draft classes from this current Winnipeg Jets franchise, including their start as the Atlanta Thrashers. The old Winnipeg Jets draft classes belong to the Arizona Coyotes, you can check out William Grisby’s article about the Coyotes best draft class if you would like. But today it’s about the current team.
The Jets/Thrashers draft history is littered with them taking two prominent players in a draft year. In the instance where they drafted more than two NHL players, usually, only one player was a star. Because it is much more difficult to find quality than quantity, we will look at the draft class where the Jets picked the two best players. In this case, the Winnipeg Jets best draft class was 2012, when Winnipeg selected top-four defenceman Jacob Trouba and Vezina winning goaltender Connor Hellebuyck.
Jacob Trouba, 9th overall
In 2012, the Winnipeg Jets passed on Sportsnet’s fourth-ranked prospect in Filip Forsberg to take the ninth-ranked big right-shot Jacob Trouba. Not a reach by any means, but it is a bit surprising considering Winnipeg had two right-shot defencemen in Dustin Byfuglien and Zach Bogosian at the time. Trouba was seen as a physical defenceman who did almost everything well and had a great point shot. You can watch TSN’s feed of when he was drafted below.
Trouba developed rapidly after being picked. He played for the University of Michigan, scoring 12 goals, 17 assists for 29 points in 37 games. He also won gold with Team USA at the 2013 World Junior Championship and was the tournament’s top defenceman. Trouba finished the year playing for Team USA’s World Championship team, and scored three points in seven games, showing he was ready to play against men.
Jacob Trouba joined the Jets during the 2013-14 season and immediately became one of their top defencemen. He played 22:26 minutes a night and scored 29 points in 65 games. Trouba’s play remained consistent over the next four seasons. By the 2017-18 season, he formed a strong pair with Josh Morrissey and they would play against the opposition’s best players every night. That season, Winnipeg had the second-best record in the league and went to the Western Conference Finals before falling to the Vegas Golden Knights. It was the best season in franchise history. The following year was the best of his career, scoring a career-high 50 points.
In the offseason, Trouba had a year left until free agency and didn’t intend to re-sign. The Jets traded Trouba to the New York Rangers for defenceman Neal Pionk and a first-round pick in 2019 which became Ville Heinola.
Scott Kosmachuk, 70th overall
Outside of Trouba and Hellebuyck, Kosmachuk is the only other member of this draft class to play in the NHL. Playing for the Guelph Storm of the OHL, Kosmachuk showed a promising combination of goal-scoring and physicality. Between the 2011-2014 seasons, he scored 114 goals, 225 points and racked up 298 penalty minutes. During the 2013-14 season, Kosmachuk led the Storm in scoring in the regular season (101 points) and playoffs (28 points) as the Storm won the OHL championship and lost in the Memorial Cup Final to the Edmonton Oil Kings.
Kosmachuk became a dependable player in the AHL for Winnipeg. He scored 28 points twice and 36 points in his middle season during 2015-16. His 36-point-year earned him a call-up where he played eight games for the Jets and registered three assists. Kosmachuk moved on from the Jets organization in 2017 and played the last four seasons on four different teams. Two in the AHL and two in Europe. This past season he scored 42 points in 43 games playing for VSV EC in Villach, Austria.
Connor Hellebuyck, 130th overall.
It is rare to find a future NHL superstar in the beige, dusty, desert landscape of West Texas, but that is where Winnipeg found their greatest goalie in franchise history. Hellebuyck played his draft year for the expansion Odessa Jackalopes of the North American Hockey League. He played 53 out of 60 games, faced on average 34 shots a night and had the second-best save percentage in the league. His strong performance earned him to be selected by the Jets. He continued his strong play for the next three and a half seasons. He had save percentages of .952 and .941 in two years with UMass Lowell, and a save percentage around .921 during his year-and-a-half in the AHL.
Hellebuyck became a full-time NHL goalie in the 2016-17 season. He was a promising young goalie for many years. Before 2019, the highlight of his career was backstopping the Jets to the 2018 Western Conference Finals. However, he elevated himself to a star during the 2019-20 season.
During the 2019 offseason, Winnipeg lost four of their top-six defenceman, including Trouba. They struggled defensively, giving up the seventh-most shots in the league. Out of 30 goalies who played at least 2,000 minutes during the 2019-20 season, Hellebuyck faced the most shots and high danger shots and finished with the second-best save percentage at .922 per Natural Stat Trick. Leading the Jets into the play-in round before losing to the Calgary Flames. For his efforts, he won the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goalie. Last season he faced the most shots and high danger shots again. His save percentage dropped to .916 but was still in the top ten among goalies to play at least 1,500 minutes. He led Winnipeg back to the playoffs where they lost to the Montreal Canadiens in the second round.
The Atlanta Thrashers drafted two top-pairing defencemen in this draft in Braydon Coburn (8th overall) and Tobias Enstrom (239th). Coburn only played 38 games for Atlanta during his first two seasons before being traded to the Philadelphia Flyers for Alexei Zhitnik. As a Flyer, Coburn developed into a big 6′-5″ shut down defenceman who played over 20 minutes a night. He’s played 983 NHL games and won the 2020 Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Enstrom is the exact opposite type of defenceman. He is a 5′-10″ offensive defenceman who formed Winnipeg’s top pair with Dustin Byfuglien during Winnipeg’s first six seasons back.
The Jets drafted quality and quantity in this draft. With their first pick, 17th overall, they selected winger Kyle Connor. He has scored over 30 goals (scored 26 last year but was on pace for 38) in each of his four full seasons in the NHL. They also took Jack Roslovic in the first round. Roslovic was an offensive top-nine forward for the Jets who scored 67 points in 180 games in Winnipeg. He couldn’t crack Winnipeg’s ridiculously deep top-six, but became a top-six forward this year as a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets and was on pace for 58 points. In the sixth round, they took Mason Appleton who broke out for 25 points in 56 games as a third-line right-winger. Appleton was claimed this summer by the Seattle Kraken. They also selected Jansen Harkins and Sami Niku, who are fringe NHLers.
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