Return to article indexBuilding a Contender
By John B. Ferguson, General Manager
The Winnipeg Jets Hockey Club is going through a period of growth as it strives to become a championship contender in the National Hockey League.
In assessing the 1982-83 regular season, I'm more convinced than ever that we are moving in the right direction in our ultimate quest to bring a Stanley Cup to Winnipeg.
When you attempt to build a contender around youth and draft choices, the key word is patience. Young players need to develop and mature.
This maturing process is not an overnight process. Although the players may have an abundance of natural ability, it takes time to develop the confidence and skills to play in the NHL. That's where patience comes in.
Our scouting staff, which I consider to be among the finest in the league, and myself outlined the path the Jets must take to become a contender, and we plan to follow it through. At times we get frustrated, but we do know we're headed in the right direction.
Our players are young and will get much better as they develop in the NHL. Dale Hawerchuk, 20; Dave Babych, 21; Brian Mullen, 21; Thomas Steen, 22; Laurie Boschman, 22; Brian Hayward, 22; Dave Christian, 23; and 20-year-old Scott Arniel are our foundation of the future.
We are also counting heavily on other players whose ages really put into perspective how young our hockey club is. Tim Watters, 23; Wade Campbell, 22; Morris Lukowich, 26; Doug Smail, 25; Bengt Lundholm, 27; Don Spring, 23; Bryan Maxwell, 27; Jimmy Mann, 23; Moe Mantha, 22; Doug Soetaert, 27; Lucien DeBlois, 25; and 25-year-old Paul MacLean are not exactly grizzled veterans.
Ronnie Wilson, Larry Hopkins and several other young prospects on our farm team in Sherbrooke are other integral contributors to the future of the Winnipeg Jets.
Aiding in the development of our young defence has been Serge Savard, who signed last season. Savard's contributions have been extremely positive and we hope he decides to return next year.
Our scouts have gone a long way in fortifying our future for many years to come. Dave Ellett, a defenceman at Bowling Green University, defenceman Dan McFall at Michigan State, defenceman Jim Kyte with the Cornwall Royals, goaltender Marc Behrend at University of Wisconsin, right winger Derek Ray at Clarkson College, left winger Tom Martin from the University of Denver are just a handful of the many players the Jets have drafted who fit into our future plans.
In addition, our scouts have been scouring the U.S., Canada and Europe in search of talent we will be drafting in June in the 1983 entry draft.
The drafting and development of a player is a long and nerve racking experience. Take Jim Kyte for example.
Kyte is a 6-foot 5-inch defenceman of enormous ability. He is also only 19 years of age with two years of junior eligibility remaining when we drafted him last year.
A big young man like Kyte needs time to develop. Therefore we returned him to his junior team, the Cornwall Royals. He will be at our training camp again this fall and our scouts project that he will be a regular in our lineup in a year or two.
This is where patience comes into play. Naturally, we would like our first-round pick to make the jump directly to the NHL, but as NHL clubs go after younger and younger players in the draft, this time of advancement becomes next to impossible.
Take this year's draft for example. In my opinion, the best player available is Pat LaFontaine, a boy playing in Verdun in the Quebec League. He is a "sure-fire" NHLer as are two or three others who might step into the NHL and play regularly next year.
But where we are drafting - somewhere in the middle of the pack - the players available must be labelled "futures". That is, they will one day play on our hockey club but today are too underdeveloped to make the giant step right into the NHL.
To rush a player is to put unnecessary pressure on a boy and a team could risk the chances of ruining the player by destroying his confidence.
This is what we're dealing with these days and that's why the key word is patience. The Winnipeg Jets are patiently awaiting the arrival of many of our fine prospects - players that we firmly believe will one day make us a bonafide Stanley Cup contender.