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Jets hope for quality over quantity at NHL Draft – Winnipeg Free Press

Jets hope for quality over quantity at NHL Draft – Winnipeg Free Press

LAS VEGAS – The Winnipeg Jets added three forwards and a talented defenseman to the prospect roster on Day 2 of the 2024 NHL Draft.

With the fifth pick in the second round, the Jets acquired Alfons Freij.

Freij is a mobile, well-moving defender of 1.85 meters tall and weighing 88 kilos. He will probably play for IF Björklöven in the second division of the Swedish hockey league.

LEHTIKUVA / JUSSI NUKARI

Sweden’s Alfons Freij celebrates a goal during the 2024 IIHF U18 World Championships in May. The Winnipeg Jets selected the defenseman in the second round of the 2024 NHL Draft on Saturday in Las Vegas.

“I would describe my game as a two-way defender that is more offensive,” Freij said. “I like to have the puck, kind of have good skating ability to put my teammates in a good position. I like to have the puck on my blade.”

Freij, who faced 24 teams at the NHL combine earlier this month, hopes to represent Sweden at the 2025 World Junior Hockey Championship.

He is also familiar with the Jets’ best defenseman, Elias Salomonsson, as they have the same agent.

“There’s a good package of speed, skill and hockey sense that could make him a good offensive player who can definitely move the puck and add momentum,” Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said. “He seems like a great kid to me as well. There’s some good upside there.”

Freij is looking forward to heading to Winnipeg next week to participate in development camp and already has a good idea of ​​what he will be working on this summer.

“I would say, of course, I can do better things in the o-zone. But my defensive game also needs to improve,” said Freij. “Use my size a little more. I have such good skating ability, but I have to use my size a little more, especially now that I play with men.”

In the fourth round, the Jets traded up to select Niagara Ice Dogs left winger Kevin He, who was the highest-picked player born in China.

“It is unbelievable. A huge honor. I had a lot of fans texting me right before the draft, wishing me luck and supporting me,” said He, whose family moved to Montreal when he was five and to Toronto when he was 12. He had 31 goals and 53 points in 64 Ontario Hockey League games last season. “I hope to be a role model for kids trying to learn hockey. I hope so.”

When asked to describe his game, he gave a brief scouting report.

“Competitive. I’m a hungry player. I want to win. I always play with a chip on my shoulder. I’m also skilled. I can skate and shoot well,” said He, who expanded his answer when asked a follow-up question asked about his speed. “Yes. It’s something I always worked on growing up. I’ve done a lot of power skating coaching, a lot of skating. It’s something I’ve been prioritizing and working on since I was a little kid.”

In the fifth round, the Jets selected Finnish forward Markus Loponen and with their final selection in the sixth round, the Jets selected 6-foot-1, 211-pound center Kieron Walton of the Sudbury Wolves.

“Well, hopefully quality trumps quantity,” said Cheveldayoff, asked to assess the choices made Saturday. “We were staring at our list and while He was still sitting there, we felt like we had to be decisive there. We didn’t think he would be around that long, so we just worked the phone to find someone we could work with to make that choice. It’s scouts’ day again.”

One of the unresolved issues of the weekend is the status of top striker Rutger McGroarty.

McGroarty was expected to be moved this weekend, but nothing happened on Friday despite a number of dire situations.

What happens next remains a mystery, and Cheveldayoff didn’t provide many clues about the next move on Saturday.

“I really don’t have an update,” Cheveldayoff said. “Obviously he won’t be in development camp when he comes here. But I don’t really have an update at the moment.”

It was a relatively quiet weekend for Manitoba prospects as only one was picked on Saturday.

In the fifth round, Swift Current Broncos forward Clarke Caswell was selected by the Seattle Kraken.

Caswell, a native of Brandon, had 26 goals, 51 assists and 77 points in 65 Western Hockey League games last season.

With the draft in the rearview mirror, free agency will take center stage when it opens on Monday.

Saturday also saw a big trade involving Manitoban Conor Geekie.

The former Winnipeg Ice forward is headed to the Tampa Bay Lightning, along with defenceman JJ Moser and a pair of draft picks, while veteran defenceman Mikhail Sergachev is headed to the Utah Hockey Club.

Geekie, selected 11th overall in the 2022 NHL Draft, is having a stellar season in the Western Hockey League, combining for 43 goals and 99 points in 55 games with the Swift Current Broncos and Wenatchee Wild.

While the Jets signed defenseman Dylan DeMelo to a contract extension earlier this week, they still have some key decisions to make regarding their upcoming unrestricted free agents.

“The next day and a half is going to be just like the last two and a half weeks. It’s been that process of trying to understand where everything is going,” Cheveldayoff said. “We’re definitely in more constant contact with our own UFA guys, trying to see if there’s a way to make some things work. This phase and time of year is over now and we’re jumping into the next one with both feet.”