The 2021-22 NHL season is upon us, which means there is a whole new crop of rookies to watch out for. In the case of the Winnipeg Jets, there is no shortage of fresh faces who are poised to take the next step this season, should the opportunity become available.
Over the past few seasons, the Jets have shown a bold, yet strategic strategy at the NHL Draft. They’ve quietly stockpiled a solid group of prospects, some of which seem ready to “take flight” (excuse the airplane pun) in the NHL.
Now that the opening day roster has been finalized, here are three Jets rookies to watch heading into the 2021-22 season.
1. Ville Heinola
If you think I’ve said this before, it’s because I have. I’ve praised Heinola ever since the Jets drafted him 20th overall back in 2019, and I don’t think I’ll stop praising him until he gets a fair shot at the NHL level.
It seems like an eternity has passed since Heinola’s debut during the 2019-20 season, where he posted a remarkable five points in eight games. Following his loan back to Liiga in Finland, the American Hockey League’s Manitoba Moose (AHL), and then that year’s edition of the World Junior Hockey Championship (WJC), it seemed like he was one of the favourites to crack the opening night lineup during the upcoming season.
However, that’s not exactly how things worked out. Heinola found himself playing in just five contests during the 2020-21 season, spending the majority of the time watching the Jets play from the press box. He did dress in 19 games with the Moose that year, but it was evident that he simply wasn’t going to get the opportunity. Add in the pleasant emergence of Logan Stanley and Heinola simply wasn’t the next option when lines were shuffled due to injury.
But, this could finally be the year. As Heinola approaches the end of his entry-level contract, the Jets will be faced with an intriguing decision should he demand more playing time. A similar comparable could be the Rasmus Sandin situation currently taking place in Toronto, with this season looking like the first where the young Swede will be in the lineup full time.
With Paul Maurice’s subtle veteran bias, it still wouldn’t shock me if Heinola found himself out of the lineup in favour of players like Nathan Beaulieu or Dylan DeMelo. But a new season certainly brings new opportunities, and Jets fans should still be optimistic about what the future holds for Heinola.
2. Cole Perfetti
Position: Centre/Left Wing
Cole Perfetti’s time in the NHL has officially arrived, and perhaps a lot sooner than many were anticipating. After spending the 2020-21 campaign with the Moose, and representing Canada at both the WJC and World Hockey Championship, Perfetti burst onto the scene at training camp, and will be making his debut in the team’s season opener against the Anaheim Ducks.
A year removed from his 111 point season with the Ontario Hockey League’s Saginaw Spirit, Perfetti posted a respectable 26 points in 32 AHL contests, keeping Jets fans hopeful for the future. Now, with Mark Scheifele serving the final game of his four game-suspension when the Jets start their season on Wednesday, the opportunity could not be better for Perfetti.
Drafted 10th overall during the 2020 NHL Draft, I certainly didn’t expect Perfetti to make this much of an impact with the Jets organization thus far. But with his offensive awareness showing no signs of slowing down, despite the Whitby native graduating to higher levels of hockey, now might be the perfect time to see what the 19 year-old can bring at the NHL level.
3. Mikhail Berdin
After the season that he had at the AHL level last season, you might think that Berdin will need more time with the Moose and is more than just a longshot to make the NHL this season. However, if you look at the Jets current goaltending situation, there might be an opportunity for Berdin to at least make a few bench appearances during the upcoming season.
The Jets goaltending depth chart currently consists of Connor Hellebuyck (obviously), Eric Comrie (who is a clear step down from Laurent Brossoit), and well, Berdin, who posted an abysmal .897 save-percentage and a 2.89 goals-against average, going just 13-11-5 last season.
While all signs point to Comrie starting the season behind Hellebuyck, there are no guarantees that he’ll be able to hold his position as Winnipeg’s backup. This not only opens the door for Berdin, but also makes the Jets goaltending conversation a whole lot more intriguing, with Arvid Holm recently joining the fold.
Should Comrie falter, it shouldn’t come as a surprise if Berdin sees some time on the Jets bench. Both him and Holm will undoubtedly have to work their way up from the minor leagues just to earn a chance at the NHL, but the opportunity isn’t out of the realm of possibility. While Berdin’s numbers have continued to trend in the wrong direction, with the 2021-22 campaign looking like it’ll be his fourth in the AHL, he still has time to turn it around with Winnipeg’s battle in the crease set to heat up.
Jets Fans Have Plenty of Young Guns to Watch
Whether we see all, some, or none of the Jets rookies appear at the NHL level this season, it’s evident that Jets fans will have an abundance of options if they’re curious about what the future of this team looks like. It may not be at the NHL level right away, but a handful of Jets prospects are making a serious case as to why they should stick around.
Ville Heinola has been seemingly knocking at the door for the past two seasons now, Cole Perfetti has a chance to be one of the more underrated rookies this season, and Mikhail Berdin, despite his struggles, might have a chance to see NHL ice this season.
This year’s mantra seems to be “seize the opportunity”, and with the way things are shaping up, there should be plenty of chances to see some new Jets take the ice at the NHL level.
Currently a sport media student at Ryerson University in Toronto, Josh Kim is a freelance photographer and journalist with The Hockey Writers. Having worked within the ECHL, PWHPA, and OHL in a variety of content-based roles, Josh has been working in sports for the past 5+ years and currently finds himself working with Ryerson athletics as a sports photographer. With The Hockey Writers, Josh chases feature stories while also covering the Winnipeg Jets, the World Juniors, and the NHL Entry Draft. While hockey continues to be his main focus, Josh is also a fully credentialed WNBA writer and the host of the Get Your Head in the Game podcast, which emphasizes the connection between mental health and sport. If you’re interested in seeing a full display of his work, if you’ve got a story tip, or just want to get in touch, please find Josh’s socials linked below his articles and visit his website: joshkimphoto.com