Deep Dive: Jets 1st Round Pick Ville Heinola

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What the Winnipeg Jets Have Planned for Ville Heinola

After making his second appearance of the season on April 15, 2021, questions remain unanswered regarding Ville Heinola’s place with the Winnipeg Jets for the remainder of the 2020-21 NHL regular season and playoffs. In recent interviews with Coach Paul Maurice, the team’s plans for the Jets’ first round pick (20th overall) in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft have started to come out, but a lot remains unclear.

“I’m going to want to see Heinola and [Jordie] Benn in the next six — get a handle on what they can do against those teams, what our pairs look like, what a match would look like. [It’s] a little different tonight because they have a couple of guys out and we’re on back-to-back. But, [when] we get into the playoffs, we’re going to need them all. They’ll all play games, so we need to have a handle on who they fit with and who we match them up with before we get there.”

(@vheinola)

Since Heinola replaced Logan Stanley in a 5-2 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs, it appears as though Stanley will be the short-term odd-man-out in exchange for Benn or Heinola — assuming the Jets stay healthy. However, given that the Jets are securely in a playoff spot with under 10 games remaining, odds are the team will rest players with lingering injuries for some number of those games. For example, currently ranked third in the league in blocked shots, it’s almost certain that defenseman Derek Forbort could use one or more games off to allow a few of his many bruises to heal.

Given that Heinola only has five games remaining (including the playoffs) on his entry-level slide, it seems likely that is the maximum games he will play. That being said, with Nathan Beaulieuout out for the season, the Jets are somewhat limited in serviceable defensemen; beyond the team’s top five — Joshua Morrissey, Tucker Poolman, Neal Pionk, Derek Forbort and Dylan DeMelo — Benn is the only other defenseman in Jets’ system with NHL playoff experience. If you consider both competency and regular season experience, it is difficult to say that Heinola should beat out Stanley, let alone Sami Niku. And even if Heinola is better than Benn, Niku and Stanley, would playing him be the difference that would make the Jets win the Stanley Cup?  It seems pretty unlikely.

Having seen most of his games in the World Juniors and NHL, I’ve been very impressed with Heinola’s play. In my opinion, he’s probably capable of playing full-time for the Jets right now and is a future star. However, since Paul Maurice and general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff haven’t given him a serious look up to this point in the season, it would be a huge waste of one contract year to play him beyond the maximum of seven games. Given that both Maurice and Cheveldayoff are extremely competent and have certainly considered all of the preceding, what has already taken place should be a clear indication of what to expect for Heinola.

So, odds are the Jets will give Heinola one to three more games during the regular season and save his remaining games for the playoffs — both for experience and in case of injuries. Personally, strictly from a competency standpoint, I’d have him ahead of Niku and Stanley, but behind Benn only due to experience and usefulness (since he’s too low on the depth chart to be on the Power Play and isn’t suited to be on the Penalty Kill). If you were as excited as I was to see him in the lineup, don’t get too excited — unless there’s a catastrophic string of injuries for the Jets’ defense corps, it’s pretty unlikely that he’ll play beyond the five remaining games of his entry-level slide this season.  As for next season, don’t be surprised if he turns heads as a full-time starter for the Winnipeg Jets.