"We used to joke that you don't want to be sitting in the front row all the time at the draft," general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said. "You want to be sitting more to the back."
Following their first playoff appearance since moving to Winnipeg, the Jets are toward the back of the draft floor with the 17th pick. But they also have the 25th selection thanks to the Evander Kane trade, allowing the club to stockpile future prospects while keeping an eye on now.
Cheveldayoff said the Jets would consider trading those picks to move up significantly in the first round. Two years after selecting 10 players, targeting a top-10 performer is a luxury the organization has.
"I feel confident in our scouting staff and how they've assessed players over the years," Cheveldayoff said Tuesday in Las Vegas. "If they look at me and say, 'We really want to try and get that player,' then I'll do my best to try and accommodate."
Arizona Coyotes GM Don Maloney said two weeks ago he was getting significant offers for the third overall pick. He told Fox Sports Arizona on Thursday he had an offer of two first-round picks and a player for it, which would point to the Jets as a likely trade partner.
The Jets made some deadline deals for pending free agents but didn't give up much in this draft. If Drew Stafford, Jiri Tlusty and Lee Stempniak depart in free agency and Winnipeg also loses Michael Frolik and Jim Slater, Cheveldayoff is confident young players like Anthony Peluso, Eric O'Dell and Andrew Copp can step in.
"If you look at all the successful teams ultimately taking the next steps in their regeneration or their next step in their process, you need the young players to get an opportunity to play so that there's room for growth in their games," he said. "Young players' ceilings are far from reached, and it's important."
That won't affect the Jets' draft play, Cheveldayoff said, because picks are often two or three years away from contributing in the NHL. Of course that could change if they move up and potentially select Boston College defenceman Noah Hanifin.
Should the Jets stand pat, the draft becomes the same cyclical piece of their development process as it has been.
"We've talked about drafting and developing," Cheveldayoff said. "We've gone through the draft side of it, we've gone through a little bit of the development side now and in a little while there we're going to obviously have to look at the long-term side of some of our younger players."
It would help to know the status of Stafford, Frolik and Tlusty before the draft, but with the interview period for pending free agents open as of Thursday, Cheveldayoff has to plan for many scenarios.
"You'd love to have certainty in a lot of different areas, but really there's not a lot of certainty in this game," he said.
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