Three Winnipeg Jets prospects ranked in Scott Wheeler’s Top 50 U-23 drafted players

Jun 28, 2023; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Winnipeg Jets draft pick Colby Barlow shakes puts on a hat after being selected with the eighteenth pick in round one of the 2023 NHL Draft at Bridgestone Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 28, 2023; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Winnipeg Jets draft pick Colby Barlow shakes puts on a hat after being selected with the eighteenth pick in round one of the 2023 NHL Draft at Bridgestone Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports /

Twice a year, one of the The Athletic’s prospect writers, Scott Wheeler, posts a top 50 drafted prospects list. He produced this list this past July, with three Jets prospects making the ranking.

They’re fun lists to parse through, contain a boat load of content, and offer one man’s opinion into where your team’s prospects stand, without it being a straight up ranking of team’s prospects pools.

It’s always a series I look forward to.

From a Winnipeg Jets perspective, though, this one was a bit of a nail biter to read.

After coming across zero Jets picks in the first half of Wheeler’s list, once I got to 30 I started feeling a little antsy. Would the Jets have anyone on the list at all? Admittedly, I was hoping Barlow’s goal scoring upside would rank him relatively high.

That wasn’t the case.

But ranked right at 30 is Minnesota Wild draftee Marco Rossi, who for me at least, is somewhat tied to the Jets and Cole Perfetti. He’s an undersized but supremely skilled center who lost an entire season to complications when he got covid. In the 2020 draft, it was Rossi or Cole Perfetti who fell to 9th overall, leaving Minnesota with their choice. Presumably, the Jets would have taken whichever the two highly skilled centers the Wild did not.

So far between the two, it looks like the Jets got the right guy. Rossi, selected 9th, is still a prospect, while the Jets 10th pick, Perfetti, has broken his way into the Jets top 6 and makes the type of plays that suggest his hockey sense will be more than enough to make up for his mediocre skating ability. He has real top line upside.

Moving on, once I got to 40, and the “bottom 10” of this top 50, I thought we might only have one guy ranked in here.

And then bam, three Winnipeg Jets prospects in a row: Colby Barlow, Rutger McGroarty, and Chaz Lucius. Ranked 44-46th, respectively.

It’s an indicator of where the Jets are at with their farm system – there is talent, but there isn’t necessarily top line or top pairing talent. They can be pretty hard to come by.

Now, having 3 players in there is actually quite good. There are eight teams who don’t make the list at all, and, mathematically in a 32 team league, each team “should” have 1.56 players. Which in real terms means one or two. The Jets have 3, despite not owning a single digit pick since selecting Patrik Laine 2nd in 2016.

So we’ll take the positives where we can find them. There just isn’t that guy who clearly leads the prospect pool and has a shot at being a top liner. And that’s okay. Both Barlow and McGroarty seem to be a type: strong, net crashing, unafraid to shoot players who bring a complete package of hockey sense, power, and character to the table. Winnipeg has really valued character over the last two drafts, with both McGroarty and Barlow being captains of their respective teams and their first picks of each draft. They also seem like pretty good hockey players, too.

Lucius, meanwhile, seems to be more in the Brad Lambert ilk (who was an honorable mention in Wheeler’s list), a player with a high skill game that could translate to becoming a top 6 forward, but isn’t exactly a sure bet. Both players looked sublime after making the switch to the WHL (it was a shame Lucius got hurt after scoring 15 points in 6 games), and Lambert in particular, played lights out after joining a loaded Seattle Thunderbirds team. He scored 17 goals and 38 points in 26 games in the regular season, while adding 6 goals and 26 points in 17 games en route to a WHL championship.

It’s nice to see him crush junior opposition, given that he’s played pro in Finland since he was 16. Stats in Finland’s pro league are hard to glean a lot from as someone who doesn’t watch tape of prospects.

Barlow, meanwhile, has stats that are very easy to generate takeaways from, and will be fun to track this year. Players such as him who score nearly 50 goals (he scored 46) in the OHL as a 17 year old are rare and, unless undersized, are capable of being top 10 picks. In Barlow’s case, his body is apparently “too developed”, and hurts his projection. Part of his dominant OHL season for Owen Sound can be attributed to his already developed body and questions of whether there is a large swath of development left in him, or if he’s already “peaking” in some respects, because he can physically dominate the league so young. Regardless, Wheeler sees him as a sure bet to become a third line player at worst.

Between McGroarty, Barlow, and Lucius, the Jets have compelling skilled players, but none are a lock to become top 6 forwards. Yet, it seems all of them should at worst become middle six players with possibilities for power play or penalty kill roles.

For context, here’s each player’s ranking in this list in relation to their draft class:

Colby Barlow: 17/17 prospects drafted in 2023

Rutger McGroarty: 16/18 prospects drafted in 2022

Chaz Lucius: 9/10 prospects drafted in 2021

So, at least in Scott Wheeler’s eyes, excluding players who have graduated to the big leagues, the Jets own top 20 prospects in each of the last 3 drafts. Given their position in those drafts, that is just fine. There’s no home runs, but Winnipeg seems to be doing well at selecting players with appropriate value in their slots.

Now it’s time to develop them.