The 2011 NHL Draft signaled a rebirth for the City of Winnipeg. The Jets – having just relocated from Atlanta were primed to draft their first player in the NHL’s new era in Manitoba. Producer Shane McNeil looks back at the team’s successes and failures on the draft floor.

Originally published on – June 22, 2011.

The 2011 NHL Entry Draft offers a unique opportunity for the City of Winnipeg – an opportunity to get back to the podium and build a new foundation.

While the draft is never an exact science and it is impossible to project just how great an NHL player will be based on what they’ve done before the age of 18, some teams – in hindsight – appear to have some better luck than others.

Many will point to the prowess of the Detroit Red Wings in being able to sniff out talent like Pavel Datsyuk in the sixth round and Henrik Zetterberg in the seventh as an example of how great teams can be built through scouts doing their homework.

The flip side of that coin, however, may have been the old Winnipeg Jets.

While the Jets’ legacy in the NHL has been carried since 1996 by two highly-successful first round choices – Teemu Selanne and Shane Doan – a detailed look at their track record in the first round unearths a who’s-who of missed opportunity.

Now it’s easy to point to a team’s mistakes in one draft or another with the benefit of hindsight. The Ottawa Senators took Alexandre Daigle over Chris Pronger, the Maple Leafs traded the picks that were used to draft Scott Niedermayer and Roberto Luongo, and the Edmonton Oilers dealt the pick that wound up being used on Zach Parise in favour of taking Marc-Andre Pouliot.

Look deep enough into any team’s past and you’ll find horror stories like these, with the benefit of hindsight.

But for some reason, with Winnipeg, you don’t have to look very hard.

A quick scan of their activity in the first round alone reveals a dream team of players other teams had the good sense to take the minute the Jets passed them by.

In 1991, the Jets took Aaron Ward fifth overall only to be followed one pick later by the Flyers’ selection of Peter Forsberg. Ward was a great NHLer who played 839 career games and won three Stanley Cups (albeit with Detroit and Carolina), while Forsberg became a franchise player with the Colorado Avalanche and a future Hall of Famer.

he Jets took Pat Elyniuk eighth in 1986 and the New York Rangers took Brian Leetch at No. 9.   In 1983, they selected winger Andrew McBain with the eight overall pick, with the Canucks taking Cam Neely one pick later.

Dave Babych became one of Winnipeg’s key players after being taken second overall in 1980, but Denis Savard, Larry Murphy and Paul Coffey were snatched up with three of the next four selections in the draft.

This is not to say that it was all a second-guessing game for the Jets. They did take Doan and Selanne, not to mention grabbing perennial All-Star Keith Tkachuk in 1990 and Hall of Famer Dale Hawerchuk first overall in 1981.

Yet, still in both cases, there was arguably a better option. The Devils stepped up one pick after Tkachuk to take the winningest goaltender in NHL history in Martin Brodeur and even Hawerchuk – possibly the greatest Jet of them all – was taken with Ron Francis (who sits behind only Wayne GretzkyMark Messier and Gordie Howe among the all-time NHL points leaders) left to be taken just three picks later.

In other drafts, the Jets passed over Michel Goulet, Bill Guerin and Jason Allison only to see them go with the very next pick.

Of course, it’s no knock on Babych, McBain or Ward, who have each played at least 600 career NHL games. Or Hawerchuk – who was one of the most dominant NHL stars in the 1980s en route to his place in the Hockey Hall of Fame. But it’s always easy to say ‘should have, could have’ when other teams step up right afterwards and take that other player that everyone ends up gushing over.

That said, the 2011 draft offers an opportunity for Winnipeg to usher in a new era. Along with a new organization, a new arena and possibly a new team name, the draft offers a chance for the team to add more to their already deep, talented core of prospects.

Winnipeg’s NHL team has the seventh overall selection in what many are considering to be a deep draft. Finding that talent and skill set and knowing which players will become not just NHLers but franchise players is the difference between competing in the NHL and winning championships.

With the possibility of one player slipping down the draft order or another being poised to one day be a Hart Trophy candidate, the team is in a position to substantially improve the organization’s future in the Manitoba Capital.