With all the storylines that have surrounded the Winnipeg Jets in the past six months — high-profile offseason defensive departures, Kyle Connor and Patrik Laine’s contract holdouts, Dustin Byfuglien’s sudden and still-unresolved leave of absence, the uncertainty surrounding the squad going into the season, and their surprisingly strong play thus far in 2020, to name just a few — you could be excused if you’ve lost track of the players the Jets selected in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft back in June.
With the World Junior Championships less than two weeks away and a lot of media focus currently on the NHL stars of tomorrow, it’s the perfect time to check in on how the five picks are doing in their respective leagues.
Even if you forgot about the other four, you likely didn’t forget about Ville Heinola, who made an immediate impression and impact this fall.
Chosen 20th overall, the left-handed Finnish defenseman suited up for eight NHL games earlier this season after making the team against all odds thanks to a very strong preseason. Poised and cerebral for an 18-year-old, he impressed with his intelligent reads, speed, and slick puck-moving ability.
He tallied a goal and four assists while skating an average of 18:04 and along the way, became the first player born in 2001 to tally an NHL point and the youngest d-man in Jets history to score an NHL goal.
Related: Jets Need to Keep Playing Heinola
The Jets sent their fledgling Finnish find down to the Manitoba Moose on Oct. 31, but he played just three games there, tallying one assist before the team decided to send him back to Ligia’s Lukko Rauma, where he tallied 14 points in 24 games the season before.
Some agreed with the organization’s decision to reassign him, believing it’d be better for his long-term development as he’d get more opportunity and a better chance to mature and physically and mentally there. Others felt Heinola would be better served to spend the rest of his season in the minors, so he could learn the North American game and be monitored by Jets’ brass more closely.
Heinola hasn’t dominated the Liiga in the month-and-a-bit since returning. Wearing No. 14, he has played 11 games, skated just over 18 minutes a contest, and finally recorded his first point on Dec. 13.
Heinola will be back in the national spotlight soon: he was invited to Finland’s World Junior camp and will be a lock to represent his country for a second time. Look for him to play a massive blue-line role later this month in the Czech Republic for the team looking for their second-straight gold medal.
Selected 51st overall, right-handed defenseman Simon Lundmark has split time between the Swedish Hockey League’s Linkoping HC and the Linkoping J20 squad, just as he did last season.
The 6-foot-2, 197-pound Stockholm product has played 28 games between the two levels, tallying two goals and six assists with the J20 squad and one apple with the big club.
Lundmark, praised for his strong skating, puck-moving abilities, and well-roundedness, is currently with the SHL squad, but his game log shows he’s been in and out of the lineup. While he consistently played 10-plus minutes earlier in the season, in his last two games, he played just 5:01 and 2:55 respectively. The 19-year-old has 16 shots, but no goals yet, and is a minus-three.
After his 2018-19 season was riddled with injuries that hurt his draft stock, Nikkanen has rebounded nicely in 2019-20.
Related: Winnipeg Jets’ 2019-20 Top Prospects
The offensively-adept Finnish centre has already played more games this season than he did a season ago: he’s racked up nine goals and 11 assists in 21 games for the Jr. A Liiga’s Mikkelin Jukurit U20 squad and has also played eight games for Jukurit’s Liiga squad. He only played 25 games all of last season, the main reason he slid to 113th overall and is a potential fourth-round steal for the Jets.
Still just 18-years-old, Nikkanen is a long way from joining the Jets. He was invited to Finland’s World Juniors selection camp but was cut on Dec. 12.
After spending the two seasons before being drafted with the BCHL’s Chilliwack Chiefs and putting up a combined 79 points in 100 games in the pair of campaigns, Harrison Blaisdell has moved on to the University of North Dakota to study communications and play with the Fighting Hawks.
Selected 134th overall, the 5-foot-11, 180-pound, left-handed forward, has put up two goals and six assists in 15 games and is plus-nine for the NCAA team that’s first in its conference and has lost just one game in regulation all season.
Blaisdell — praised for being a balanced offensive threat with a high-end shot, fantastic wheels, and great hands — is the son of Mike Blaisdell. Mike was selected 11th overall by the Detroit Red Wings in the 1980 NHL Entry Draft and tallied 154 points in 343 NHL games before playing a number of seasons in Britain.
One of Harrison’s teammates at UND is Nathan Poolman, the younger brother of current Winnipeg Jets’ blue-liner and fellow UND alum Tucker Poolman.
The Jets’ final 2019 pick at 144th overall, goaltender Logan Neaton hasn’t been busy so far this season. In his first season with the NCAA’s UMass-Lowell Riverhawks, the 20-year-old has played in just one game.
That’s in stark contrast to a season ago, where Neaton was extremely busy and backstopped the BCHL’s Prince George Spruce Kings to a Doyle Cup championship. He posted a 32-8-5 record in 47 games with a 1.92 goals against average, .914 save percentage, and five shutouts, and a 20-3 record with a 1.56 GAA, .939 SV% and three more shutouts in the playoffs.
Neaton must be champing at the bit for more work as his only start came all the way back on Oct. 18, in which he allowed four goals on 29 shots in an overtime loss. Senior Tyler Wall — a 2016 sixth-round New York Rangers selection — has made the other 17 starts for the 10-4-4 club.
While Heinola is definitely the easiest to follow, it’s worth your time to keep tabs on all the 2019 prospects, because you could very well see them in Jets jerseys just a couple of years down the road.
Declan Schroeder is a 26-year-old communications specialist and freelance journalist in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He holds a diploma in Creative Communications with a major in journalism from Red River College and a bachelors in Rhetoric and Communications from the University of Winnipeg.
Deeply rooted in the city’s hockey culture, the original Jets skipped town when he was two and the 2.0 version came onto the scene when he was 17.