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It looked like a potential mismatch on paper. And that’s exactly how it played out on the ice Friday night as a group of Winnipeg Jets prospects suffered a beatdown in British Columbia.
The Jets were routed 8-2 in the first of two “Young Stars” games being played this weekend against the some of the brightest Vancouver Canucks hopefuls.
Winnipeg’s roster for this event doesn’t have the same pedigree as Vancouver, which has filled the prospect pool in recent years through high draft picks and trades. For the Jets, many of their best young players are either already in the NHL or weren’t brought to this annual event on the belief it wouldn’t benefit them – including reigning AHL defenceman of the year Sami Niku and reigning AHL rookie of the year Mason Appleton.
The Jets did have Kristian Vesalainen (1st round, 2017) playing as a pro for the first time in North America, and he formed a dangerous looking top line Friday night against a pair of second-year pros who played with the Manitoba Moose last season in Michael Spacek (4th round, 2015) and Jansen Harkins (2nd round, 2015).
They stood out and often tilted the ice in their favour when they were on the ice and combined for Winnipeg’s first goal – a beautiful tally that saw Vesalainen grab a loose puck behind Vancouver’s net and feed a perfect pass to Spacek, who showed great patience in waiting out Canucks goalie Michael DiPietro (3rd round, 2017). Harkins also had a helper on the play.
But it was much too little, much too late for the Jets, who were already trailing by a touchdown when Spacek lit the lamp late in the second period.
After scoring in the opening minute of the game off a deflection, the Canucks erupted for six goals in the first half of the second period to turn this into a laugher.
Goalie Mikhail Berdin (6th round, 2016), who is expected to compete for a back-up position with the Moose this year, had a night to forget. He was chased just before the halfway point of the game after giving up six goals (five on eight shots alone in the middle frame), although it would be hard to fault him on any in particular. His teammates were simply overwhelmed at times and unable to do much to negate the Vancouver swarm that came in waves.
Two goals were on deflections, one was on a screen, one was on a breakaway, one was on a rebound and another was on a dynamic shot from the supremely talented Elias Pettersson, selected fifth-overall in the 2017 draft.
Winnipegger Duncan McGovern, who is one of a half-dozen players brought in on on tryouts just to fill out a full roster, came on in relief and was promptly scored upon. McGovern is an undrafted 18-year-old who played last season with the Kootenay Ice of the Western Hockey League.
Pettersson added his second of the game early in the final period to finish off his team’s scoring, while McGovern turned away several other quality chances.
Harkins got one back for the Jets late in the third period when he tipped a wrist shot from Spacek. Defenceman Logan Stanley (1st round, 2016) drew the other assist, while also dishing out a pair of big hits on the night.
The Jets could have made it a bit closer if not for some bad luck, as C.J. Suess (5th round, 2014), Matt Ustaski (7th round, 2013) and Krystof Hrabik (undrafted invite) all hit crossbars during the game.
Winnipegger Jett Woo, selected by Vancouver in the second round (37th overall) in this summer’s NHL draft, is not participating in the Young Stars event because of a knee injury.
The two teams will meet again Sunday at 4 p.m. CT.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.