Jets Must Make Room on Blue Line for Prospects

Let’s be honest, the Winnipeg Jets are unlikely to make the NHL playoffs this season, and while their defensive zone play has improved, it remains an issue. They have two problems staring them in the face for next year: One being they have grossly underachieved this season, and the second is the fact that they have done so while spending the maximum allowable amount on salaries under the current cap. With the trade deadline approaching they could look at moving a defensemen, possibly even two, to make room for the logjam of talent they have in their minor league system, and do it all while saving some cash along the way.

Winnipeg Jets Bench Dave Lowry
Winnipeg Jets will have to make room for younger, more affordable defensemen moving forward. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The club has drafted and developed a solid foundation of good, young defensemen who are honing their skills with the Manitoba Moose in the America Hockey League (AHL). The Moose have been playing very well this season and are looking to make a long run at the Calder Cup this spring, and they have the defensive corps to potentially make that happen.

The 2021-22 Jets’ defense has been better than last season. Certainly not stellar, and nothing that even remotely resembles consistent. Looking to move some of their current defensemen would only make sense, as the prospects would obviously be more affordable, but could also gain some valuable NHL experience prior to the end of this season. Let’s face facts, it’s not like we’re talking about a masterpiece unit that would be dismantled here. They’ve been average at best, so what harm can it do to make some changes?

Related: Jets’ Dave Lowry Making Mistakes With Defensive Deployment

The Jets have defensive talent in the AHL who can do the job of some of their current defensemen and do it for a reduced price. More importantly, some of the players I’m going to mention below won’t be waiver exempt next season, which means the Jets could possibly lose them in the future if they’re not careful.

Jets Prospects to Make Room For

Ville Heinola is the obvious player to make the permanent leap onto the Jets’ roster next season. The Jets’ first-round pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft has had a solid year in the AHL, and is easily their best prospect on the blue line. He has shown with the Moose that he makes smart decisions with the puck, has excellent vision and is incredibly poised. He has shown flashes of that with the Jets this season, but not on a consistent basis in his limited time in the NHL, and has been unable to crack the lineup on a full-time basis. The coaching staff has shown they don’t fully trust the 21-year-old yet, but that is slowly changing, as on most days he is the Moose’s best blueliner.

Ville Heinola Winnipeg Jets
Ville Heinola is a prospect that will be on the Jets roster next season. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Dylan Samberg and Declan Chisholm are also names that have played limited time with the Jets due to their bouts with injuries and COVID, but they have looked good when in the lineup. Samberg is a 6-foot-4 defense-first blueliner, while Chisholm, at 6-foot-1, is much more offensive-minded defenseman. Samberg has seven assists with the Moose thus far, while Chisholm has 24 points (seven goals, 17 assists) and both have had a real impact on the success of the Moose with their 30-17-2-2 record, which translates to the fifth best winning percentage in the 31-team league.

Dylan Samberg Winnipeg Jets
Dylan Samberg, Winnipeg Jets (Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)

Johnny Kovacevic is the other defenseman of note. At 6-foot-5 he is big, strong and plays a smart game and can offence. He has 22 points (nine G, 13 A) in 42 games with the Moose and has possesses the teams best plus/minus rating at plus-14. The real charm to Kovacevic is his right-hand shot. The Jets are overtly rich with left-handed defensemen, and he has the potential to be a solid NHL player. Another right-handed shot is very much needed on the Jets’ blue line.

Jets Defensemen to Move

Josh Morrissey is one the Jets’ core leaders regardless of position and is having a solid bounce back year and has been the Jets only consistent defenseman. Neal Pionk has been the Jets best defenseman the past two years and his right-handed shot and work on the power-play make him extremely valuable to the club. Logan Stanley may never be a top-four defensemen but he is big, strong, gets involved and is cheap. He would be very appealing to teams at the deadline, but as cash-strapped as the Jets are, they are not going to move an affordable asset with term left on his contract. None of these guys are going anywhere.

That leaves Nate Schmidt, Brenden Dillon, Dylan DeMelo and Nathan Beaulieu. The latter is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, and although his salary is small at $1.25 million, he has been the Jets’ seventh defenseman all season and will provide low return in a trade for the Jets. DeMelo is earning $3 million per season, while Schmidt and Dillon are being paid salaries of $5.875 million and $3.9 million, respectively. Moving any of these guys (From “Jets trade tiers: Rentals likely to be moved this season but making room for prospects will eventually be a priority”, The Athletic, 2/11/2022) at the deadline might prove difficult being with only 16 playoff-bound teams willing to show interest, and unless a major injury presents itself in the next week there seems little use in any team acquiring anything other than an elite defenseman. My guess is that one or more of these guys get traded to another team in the offseason or early in the fall.

Dillon has been a solid physical defenseman who plays on the edge, and for the most part has done what was asked of him. Schmidt, at this point, looks to be the one who should be moved. He’s been okay for the Jets this season, but not the high-level, offensive puck moving defenseman that was advertised. He has played well at times, but like the Jets as a whole has been inconsistent. A trade for Schmidt would provide some much needed cap space and would allow room for younger, more affordable players that could do everything Schmidt provides on the ice.

Nate Schmidt Winnipeg Jets
Nate Schmidt could be on the move to make room for some prospects. (Photo by Harrison Barden/Getty Images)

The Jets simply have to correct their salary cap woes, and moving more than one piece of the defensive unit is an issue that simply has to be addressed. The good news for Jets fans is that they have some viable options.

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