Winnipeg Jets: 4 Free Agent Forwards To Pursue This Offseason

The Winnipeg Jets’ forward depth will be a focal point for improvement this offseason. Those roles last season were filled by Andrew Copp, who was traded to the New York Rangers for two first-round picks, Morgan Barron, and Paul Stastny, who’s coming off of a 20-goal season and is a pending unrestricted free agent (UFA).

At the moment, the only middle-six wingers they have under contract are Blake Wheeler and Cole Perfetti. Mason Appleton is a restricted free agent (RFA) and is likely coming back, but he would be more suited to fill out a fourth-line scoring role.

The Jets should be looking for young, affordable, middle-six scoring wingers with size. Identifying value in under-used players is how teams vault themselves from being a playoff-hopeful to a contender. This list provides four forwards that fit that description and are free agents this offseason.

Jesse Puljujarvi (Edmonton Oilers)

First on the list is 6-foot-4 power forward Jesse Puljujarvi of the Edmonton Oilers. He was buried on the third line during the Oilers’ playoff run, giving general manager Ken Holland a decision to make this offseason. He had 36 points in 65 games during the regular season, but his value doesn’t come from scoring alone.

Related: Puljujarvi Has Been Good Despite Insider’s Comments

Puljujarvi’s ability to be physical around the front of the net and shut down the opposing teams’ best players is what makes him so valuable. He often gets compared to Valeri Nichushkin of the Colorado Avalanche, who before this season struggled with scoring but generated enough chances for it not to be a concern. Puljujarvi is extremely similar in the sense that he is great defensively, and wreaks enough havoc offensively for him to be a value wherever you play him in the lineup.

Jesse Puljujarvi Connor McDavid Edmonton Oilers
Jesse Puljujarvi, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Adding Puljujarvi would bring a combination of defence, size, and skill to a forward group that desperately needs it, as his point totals have climbed from 25 to 36 in the past two seasons. He is an RFA, so the Jets would have to offer players and picks on top of a new contract, but the contract would be affordable enough to make the trade worth doing.

Dylan Strome (Chicago Blackhawks)

Next is Dylan Strome of the Chicago Blackhawks. He enjoyed a breakout season in 2021-22, scoring 22 goals and 48 points in 69 games played. The former third overall pick of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft would be an outstanding pickup to become the Jets’ third-line centre. Adam Lowry filled that role last year and was an extremely effective penalty killer, but lacked the depth scoring component that the team desperately needed throughout the season.

Strome is 6-foot-3 and has a great combination of shooting, passing, and playmaking abilities. Adding him would bring a threat to the bottom six that they have not had in a long time, that being a third-line scoring centre. Under former head coach Paul Maurice, that role was usually reserved for players that specialized in penalty killing and even-strength defence. With Mark Scheifele and Pierre-Luc Dubois already in the mix at the centre position, adding a third scoring option down the middle of the lineup would create plenty of matchup problems for opposing coaches.

Also being an RFA at the end of the season, the Jets would have to convince the Blackhawks to sign him to a contract before trading him. Like Puljujarvi, if Strome and the Jets were able to get to a contract negotiation stage, he would be very affordable for the production that he brings to the table.

Ilya Mikheyev (Toronto Maple Leafs)

Ilya Mikheyev from the Toronto Maple Leafs would cost the least and brings a similar skill set as the rest of the players on this list. Given he is a UFA, they’d be able to discuss a contract with him without having to trade for him first.

Mikheyev is in the prime of his career. At 27 years old, he broke out last season playing a defensive role within the Maple Leafs’ middle six. He scored 21 goals and 32 points in 53 games and brought a high level of even-strength defence to the table in the process.

Ilya Mikheyev Toronto Maple Leafs
Ilya Mikheyev, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Mikheyev’s 21 goals last year show how he could also provide a scoring element to a shut-down third line. He is likely the least physical of the players on this list, but 20-goal scorers that are exceptional defensively are hard to come by, and the Jets should be looking to add as many as they can to a middle-six that lacked scoring in 2021-22. Adding him would keep the defensive state of the middle-six intact while adding a scoring touch that makes him playable in almost any situation throughout the lineup.

Kaapo Kakko (New York Rangers)

The former second overall pick of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, Kaapo Kakko has had a slow start to his NHL career, as he had a career-high of 23 points and only scored seven goals last season. The good news is that’s not where his value comes from. He’s only 21 years old and has proven to be a shutdown forward just three years into his career.

Kakko is an RFA this offseason, making it likely that the Rangers re-sign him in hopes of an offensive breakout. In Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final, he was a healthy scratch and only had five points in 19 games throughout the playoffs, but was one-third of New York’s “Kid Line”. His linemates, Alexis Lafreniere and Filip Chytil both finished the playoffs with nine points each, as the trio showed the ability to forecheck and defend their way to effective results.

Kaapo Kakko New York Rangers
Kaapo Kakko, New York Rangers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Acquiring Kakko from the Rangers may be a long shot, but it’s worth banking on a 21-year-old player who’s primed to have a breakout season sooner rather than later.

All of these players are of the same build. They are defensive, physical power forwards who provide a scoring boost for their teams, something the Jets are desperately missing in their lineup. Any one of these players would be a welcome addition, given their contracts will likely fall around the same average annual value (AAV). Cap space may be hard to come by after signing Dubois, but paying anywhere from $2.5 million to $4 million AAV for one of these players would be money well spent, and a desperate need filled in the process.

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