4 Jets Early Season Trade Targets to Improve the Middle-6

With the regular season getting underway, injuries are beginning to mount across the league. Throughout the entire offseason, many experts believed that the Winnipeg Jets would make a move to free up some space for their defensive prospects and to help out the middle-six forward group.

Related: Jets Sending Ville Heinola to the AHL is a Mistake

They are still facing the “too many defencemen” issue early in the regular season, having sent their top defensive prospect Ville Heinola down to the American Hockey League (AHL) and losing Jonathan Kovacevic on waivers to the Montreal Canadiens. Here are four trade targets that would free up space for their young defenders, and help their lack of middle-six scoring options in the process.

Edmonton Oilers: Brenden Dillon for Jesse Puljujarvi & Derek Ryan

Jesse Puljujarvi? To the Jets? Nobody has ever said that before! All jokes aside, Puljujarvi has made sense for the Jets since the start of the offseason, but they may have missed their window to acquire him. The Edmonton Oilers still need to clear cap space, and he carries a cap hit of $3 million for the remainder of the 2022-23 season, before becoming a restricted free agent (RFA) next offseason.

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The Oilers could desperately use a defenceman to bolster their top four, and Brenden Dillon makes plenty of sense from a cap perspective. He would theoretically slide into a second-pairing role alongside Evan Bouchard, who produced 43 points in 81 games last season.

Dillon has been great for the Jets through three games, which would make it tough for the Jets to move him. He currently finds himself in a top-four role next to Neal Pionk and Nate Schmidt.

Jesse Puljujarvi Edmonton Oilers
Jesse Puljujarvi, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Throughout three games, the second line of Cole Perfetti, Pierre-Luc Dubois, and Blake Wheeler have been good for the Jets so far, but they could use a player like Puljujarvi to spread out the offensive firepower and provide some defence to the third line.

Derek Ryan would make the financials work on this trade as he carries a cap hit of $1.25 million but likely wouldn’t see any game action within the Jets’ bottom six.

Vancouver Canucks: One of Pionk, Schmidt, or Dillon for Conor Garland

Conor Garland was a healthy scratch for the winless Vancouver Canucks in their game on Oct. 18 against the Columbus Blue Jackets. He has four years remaining on his contract at $4.95 million per season.

Garland has been a very effective middle-six player throughout his entire career and was able to put up 52 points in 77 games last season. The Canucks have suffered injuries to Travis Dermott and Tucker Poolman on the back end and could use a top-four defenceman to help them keep some shots away from goaltender Thatcher Demko.

Conor Garland
Conor Garland’s impact at even strength and on the power play

The Canucks would possibly need to add another depth player to this trade to make the cap numbers work, but it would fill a clear need for both teams. If they refuse to even play Garland, then it would be in their best interest to move him for a defender. There are a lot of issues with the team, who have blown a multi-goal lead in all four of their losses thus far.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Dylan Samberg for Alexander Kerfoot & Third-Round Pick

The structure of these trades are all the same from the Jets’ perspective. A defenceman for middle-six help. The Toronto Maple Leafs are up against the cap and have suffered injuries to Jake Muzzin and Timothy Liljegren on defence. Alexander Kerfoot currently operates as their third-line centre but has played as a top-six winger in the past.

The Leafs need immediate help on defence and could benefit from a cost-controlled defender such as Dylan Samberg to fill in on the third pairing. For the Jets, this would remove a portion of the “too many defenceman” headache, and they still have a plethora of left-handed defence prospects in the system.

Alex Kerfoot Toronto Maple Leafs
Alex Kerfoot, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Heinola and Declan Chisholm are both currently playing with the Manitoba Moose in the AHL, but either could be called up and play a role in Samberg’s absence.

The Leafs may not be willing to move a valuable piece of their bottom six for help on defence, but this would open the possibility for them to replace another defender with Samberg, and create even more cap space for themselves for the inevitable Auston Matthews extension that is on the horizon.

Florida Panthers: Logan Stanley & Fourth-Round Pick for Colin White

Finally, a blockbuster trade involving two former first-round picks! Well, not quite. The Florida Panthers have created a depth defenders problem. While their forward core is amongst the best in the NHL, their defence core just took a big hit with Aaron Ekblad moving to injured reserve with a lower-body injury.

This leaves a huge hole in their defence core that is missing Mackenzie Weegar from a year ago and was facing depth issues prior to their top guy going down. Logan Stanley won’t fix the defensive issues the Panthers are facing, but the truth is they will be desperate for whatever help they can get. Paul Maurice routinely gave Stanley playing time the past two seasons he was the Jets’ head coach, and the young defender would have familiarity with his system as well.

Gustav ForslingBrandon Montour
Marc StaalRadko Gudas
Josh MahuraLucas Carlsson
Panthers’ current defence core, Oct. 20, 2022

Colin White scored 10 points in 24 games for the Ottawa Senators last season and would be a welcome addition to the Jets’ bottom six. He is defensively responsible, and could likely elevate the third line to a true shutdown combination alongside Adam Lowry.

General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has neglected the logjam on defence for far too long, but now is the perfect time to ship some of those defenders out to desperate contenders looking for help on the blue line. The Jets also have $4.6 million in cap space, which is extremely valuable for teams up against the $82.5 million limit. The Jets can move a defenceman for middle-six help and likely retain a draft pick in the process, just for taking on a big contract.

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