Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff spent the better part of 25 minutes taking questions from reporters via zoom call about the loss of Mason Appleton in Wednesday’s expansion draft to stock the Seattle Kraken, the decision to protect Logan Stanley over Dylan DeMelo, how the team plans on replacing Appleton, and if he’ll trade or utilize Friday’s 17th overall selection in the 2021 NHL entry draft.
But just a few minutes before the start of his 2:30 p.m. CT availability session, Cheveldayoff took the proactive measure of addressing what has become the elephant in the room for pretty much everyone who was employed by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010.
Cheveldayoff was the Blackhawks assistant GM from 2009-2011 prior to being hired as the Jets GM. He said that he had no knowledge of the allegations involving Brad Aldrich, that he would cooperate with investigators, and that had no further comment.
As for the multitude of hockey-related questions, the Jets GM was his usual guarded self in terms of not offering a whole lot of information. But he did share some insight into just how difficult it was for the organization to lose a “draft and development” product like Mason Appleton to Seattle.
“We had a meeting this morning with our amateur scouts and I led off with that very comment that it was because of the scouting they did and the pick that we made, we had an NHL player,” Cheveldayoff said.
“But we all knew when Seattle was coming in, there was going to be an opportunity to lose a piece of your team.”
Cheveldayoff confirmed he did have a discussion with Kraken counterpart Ron Francis about what it would take for Seattle to pass on both Appelton and veteran defenseman Dylan DeMelo — who was also left unprotected — but Cheveldayoff says “there was nothing that would work for me.”
He said it was a “joyous” phone call with DeMelo, who just last October signed a four-year, US$12-million deal with Winnipeg just a few days prior to the start of free agency. But not so much with Appleton when Cheveldayoff found out from Francis that the 25-year-old right-winger was going to be their selection on Wednesday night.
And Cheveldayoff was asked why the organization felt as strongly as it did about protecting the fairly inexperienced Stanley, at the risk of losing the more battle-tested DeMelo. “Everybody does their own internal protection list of all the different teams,” explained Cheveldayoff.
“So you can go and make some calls to them to see if there’s a guy that you like, that you think is going to be on the outside, and see if they would be interested in a trade. It’s not unique to us. Other teams do the same thing and they came down to the same conclusions that I think everyone was coming down to. We had a lot of calls on Logan to see if we’d be interested in trading him as opposed to potentially losing him.”
Cheveldayoff says that after going through that process, it became very clear that if Stanley wasn’t protected, there could be multiple destinations for the 23-year-old blueliner, even if Seattle didn’t keep him.
But the Jets GM says that didn’t make it any easier to hit “send” on Winnipeg’s protection list in advance of last Saturday afternoon’s deadline. And he admits there were some anxious moments until the Kraken made their choice.
The consensus among many was that the Jets could least afford to lose a defenceman. So while that was a positive, replacing Appleton on what was considered one of the league’s best third lines won’t be an easy task. And Cheveldayoff didn’t share much on that when he was asked if that would be done internally with the likes of Kristian Vesalainen or Jansen Harkins.
“In our scouting meetings, we’ve been identifying who could be out there in free agency, who might be out there in trade,” said the Jets hockey boss.
“There could be some internal options — maybe a Vesalainen moving to the right side or something like that. But those things, you have to have some conversations with the coaches and see where they feel that is at as well.”
Friday’s NHL entry draft could bring some immediate help — up front or perhaps on the right side of the blue line — if Cheveldayoff can find a trading partner who covets that 17th overall pick enough to provide the Jets with an asset they need. But there was no indication of anything being imminent.
“I haven’t really had a round of those calls yet, for teams looking to move up,” was how Cheveldayoff responded to being asked if he was tempted to part with his first-round pick. “There might be some situations for us, if we’ve lost the players off the board that we covet, we might move back.”
In Cheveldayoff’s estimation, there is a tier of special players who will go very early. University of Michigan defenceman Owen Power is expected to be taken first overall by Buffalo. But Wolverine teammates Matthew Beniers and Kent Johnson — both centres — are also highly regarded, along with U.S. National Development Team defenceman Luke Hughes, Edmonton Oil Kings winger Dylan Guenther, and Swedes William Eklund (LW) and Simon Edvinsson (LSD).
That will be followed by a smaller group, and then there will be a third-tier which would include where Winnipeg is drafting. After that, Cheveldayoff believes things could get very interesting “with a bit of a dropoff.”
The final six rounds of the draft, which will be conducted virtually for the second straight year, will be held on Saturday starting at 10 a.m. CT.
As it stands right now, Winnipeg will have the 50th (Rd 2), 82nd (Rd 3), and 146th (Rd 5) picks after trading their fourth and sixth round selections to Vegas and Vancouver respectively in the deals for Paul Stastny and Jordie Benn.