Jets Need to Give Ville Heinola a Chance

Ville Heinola was drafted in the first round of the 2019 Entry Draft by the Winnipeg Jets — since then he has only played 13 games with the club. He’s spent the majority of his last two seasons with the Jets’ AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose. In 44 career games with the Moose, Heinola has recorded six goals and 21 assists. He’s averaged over 20 minutes of time on ice this season with the Moose, while also playing top power-play minutes.

Related: Jets’ 2021 Offseason Acquisitions Reviewed

The Jets have yet to give their first-round pick a chance in the 2021-22 season, and that chance seems like it may not come for a while. This piece is going to take a look at why Heinola has yet to have a chance to prove himself this season, and when an ideal time would be for the Jets to give him that chance.

The Jets Have Shut the Door on Heinola

In the 2021 offseason, the Jets traded for two defencemen in Nate Schmidt and Brenden Dillon. This was the right move for the Jets, as they are supporting their core players on contracts that expire within the next three seasons, and need to contend for a title sooner rather than later. The Jets’ defence core is now locked down, having five of their six starting defencemen under contract until 2023-24. As a result of their moves, the Jets’ defensive prospects, such as Heinola, Dylan Samberg and Declan Chisolm, aren’t going to be cracking the lineup anytime soon.

Ville Heinola Winnipeg Jets
Ville Heinola, Winnipeg Jets (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

As a result of these moves, there needs to be an open tryout for the Jets’ sixth defence spot. The next step in Heinola’s development path is the NHL, and barring injury, it seems as though he’s going to go another full season without NHL action. The Jets have struggled to develop defence prospects in recent years like Sami Niku. Like Niku, Heinola has proven that he can dominate with the Moose alongside a stacked blue line. Introducing Heinola into the NHL with sheltered third-line minutes alongside Dylan DeMelo is the best way the Jets can bring him along without ruining his development curve.

Logan Stanley’s Development

The player that would lose the most out of Heinola being in the lineup is Logan Stanley. Drafted in the first round of 2016, Stanley got forced into action in the middle of the 2020 season when Nathan Beaulieu went down with an injury. Like I suggested the Jets should do with Heinola, Stanley has been benefitting from playing extremely sheltered third-pairing minutes alongside DeMelo. He’s also played on the penalty kill, which is a major reason why the Jets prefer having him in the lineup.

Logan Stanley Winnipeg Jets
Logan Stanley, Winnipeg Jets (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

Under interim head coach Dave Lowry, Stanley has struggled to keep up with the fast pace the Jets are trying to play. He has transitioned to the NHL well, but his foot speed is the one thing that stands out as a weakness. He is 6-foot-7, so he won’t be the fastest guy on the ice, but he needs to improve his speed to a point where he is not getting blown by every game. In 73 career games, Stanley has 15 total points and three goals. He wasn’t drafted to be a point producer, but if the Jets want to play an up-tempo system with their defence being extremely active offensively, Heinola is the better option. He is the much better puck mover along with great offensive instincts, as he’s developed into one of the best offensive defencemen from his draft class.

When Should Heinola Get His Chance?

Because of the way the Jets structured their contracts on defence, they’ll have to give Heinola a chance to earn that sixth defence spot at some point, or else he’s going to have to wait until Dillon’s contract expires in the 2023-24 offseason. If that’s when he gets his first chance, he will be 23 years old and that’s just too late for a player’s first NHL experience. The Jets should start integrating Heinola into the NHL system now, and they may be pleasantly surprised by his production and how well he fits into Lowry’s system.

Dave Lowry Winnipeg Jets
Dave Lowry, Interim Head Coach of the Winnipeg Jets (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

Heinola needs to take the next step into the NHL, and there is no better time than right now. The system the Jets play encourages the defence to take chances, and it’s a system that he would thrive in. He is also one of the best young defencemen when it comes to zone exits and entries. His vision allows him to make passes out of the zone that other defencemen don’t make, and that’s what separates him from the pack and makes him Winnipeg’s best defensive prospect.

I’m not advocating that Heinola get handed a role with the Jets, or that he gets first-line minutes and first-line power play as soon as he gets to the NHL. I’m advocating for Winnipeg to at least take a look at how far along their top defensive prospect is in his development. The best-case scenario is that he becomes a full-time NHL player right out of the gate, and with the way the Jets system has moulded in his favour, Heinola may take the job and never look back.

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