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Jets, Sabres prospects stand out at WJC

Nic Petan's third goal Sunday brought wild celebrations in Toronto, and big smiles in Winnipeg. Claus Andersen/Getty Images

TORONTO -- It was as cool a moment as this version of the IIHF World Junior Championship has produced. Team Canada’s Nic Petan scored his third goal in the semifinal that sent the host country to the gold-medal game, and hats rained down on the Air Canada Centre ice.

As the headgear collected around his son, Petan’s father jogged down the steps toward the ice, a red hat in hand, and tossed it Frisbee-style over the glass to join the celebrating fans. The arena was filled with excited fans, but none prouder.

“It was pretty cool,” Petan said after the 5-1 win over Slovakia.

It was also the moment that drove home another development: This tournament has been a great showcase for the patience the Winnipeg Jets have been preaching since GM Kevin Cheveldayoff arrived following the move from Atlanta.

For years, this franchise languished in the middle or bottom of the standings because of its inability or unwillingness to draft and develop players. If they weren’t picking an Ilya Kovalchuk, Dany Heatley or Kari Lehtonen at the top of Round 1, they probably weren’t finding an NHL player.

Cheveldayoff changed that when he took over. With the play of Team Canada’s Petan and Josh Morrissey, along with Nik Ehlers leading the overachieving Team Denmark, he’s quieting those who questioned the process, even mocked his patience. At the NHL level, the Jets are in the playoff race, but clearly the best days are coming.

“It really is exciting. Our scouts have done a great job of recognizing players,” Cheveldayoff said when we chatted this weekend. “The tournament is a great showcase from a standpoint of a player who wants to try and step out and be at the forefront. ... That’s why organizations are excited when they have players in these tournaments. It’s pressure-packed, it forces the players to do things at a greater level.”

The Buffalo Sabres are pushing the Jets for the organization having its most impressive tournament.