You’ve seen players like Jansen Harkins and Mason Appleton make the permanent jump from the Manitoba Moose to the Winnipeg Jets this season. Both players became regulars in the lineup, but which AHL players can force their way into a roster spot for the Jets next season?
There are top-prospect defenders like Dylan Samberg and Declan Chisholm who could push their way into the Jets top-six next season, but Samberg is coming from the NCAA and Chisholm played in the OHL this season.
With all hockey on pause right now, I’m going to look at three Jets prospects who played for the Moose this season who could follow the same path Harkins and Appleton took and stick with the Jets next season.
Ville Heinola — Defence
Selected 20th overall in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, the Jets have high hopes for Finish defenceman Ville Heinola. I too have high hopes for Heinola – his skill and offensive upside alone are enough to get excited about.
Heinola put up five points (one goal, four assists) in eight games with the Jets early this season, but management decided to send him down to the AHL to further develop his game. After three games with the Moose, Heinola decided to head home and finish the season with Lukko Rauma in the Finish Elite League, where he has 7 assists in 29 games.
Heinola’s size is one thing that was a disadvantage for him during his eight-game NHL stint. He was beaten in battles along the boards multiple times by players with a size advantage over him.
However, the 19-year-old defender showed promise at the 2020 World Junior Championships in the Czech Republic, tallying five assists in seven games for Finland. The Fins fell short in the semi-final match with a 5-0 loss to Canada.
Heading into next season, the Jets have a lot of question marks on the back end. Assuming the team can re-sign their trade deadline acquisition of Dylan DeMelo, then only he, Josh Morrissey and Neal Pionk are locked in to have a position in the Jets top-six next season. This leaves Heinola in a group of rookies and veterans to battle it out at training camp for one of the remaining three starting spots on the Jets back end. Heinola’s skill and development over the year make him a favorite to land one of those starting gigs.
David Gustafsson — Centre
With Bryan Little injured again and Adam Lowry being in and out of the lineup, the Jets could use a solid centreman in the lineup next season. David Gustafsson fits the bill, and he suited up in 22 games with the Jets this season. He only netted one goal throughout those games, before the Jets loaned him to suit up for Sweden at the 2020 World Junior Championships.
Gustafsson played a big role for the Swedes in the tournament and he tallied four points (one goal, three assists) in seven games. Sweden went undefeated through the group stage but were edged out 5-4 by Russia in an exciting overtime game.
Gustafsson has shown he is capable of winning faceoffs, winning 54 percent of his draws in 22 NHL games. The Jets could use a big centreman like Gustafsson manning the centre dot and winning draws next season. I see Gustafsson making the jump and could see him centering one of the Jets’ bottom lines, or the Jets staff could opt to play him on the wing.
Following the World Juniors, Gustafsson returned to the AHL to play for the Moose. He’s put up seven points (two goals, five assists) in 13 games this season.
Mikhail Berdin — Goalie
The Moose are in last place in the AHL’s Central Division through 61 games this season. They’re 27-33-1-0 (55 points) and are in league’s bottom five in terms of points — but goaltending hasn’t been the issue.
Related: Jets Need Brossoit to be Better
The Jets’ 2016 sixth-round draft pick, Mikhail Berdin, started 42 games for the Moose this season. He’s posted a .910 save percentage and a goals-against average of 2.89.
Berdin has faced an average of over 30 shots per game, but he’s still been able to put up some solid numbers for the Moose. Eric Comrie has made his way back to the organization after a stint in Detroit, but Berdin is still the better prospect. Where Comrie has been critiqued for his small size, Berdin has the qualities you want in a goalie — with some flair.
Berdin isn’t afraid to handle the puck behind the net, and it resulted in an overtime game-winning goal on Jan. 4.
With Laurent Brossoit struggling this season, it opens the door for Berdin to make the jump and back up Connor Hellebuyck in the NHL next season. Brossoit has a save percentage of .895 in 19 games with the Jets this season, and his one-year deal is up at the end of the year.
Related: Top 3 All-Time Jets Goalies
The Jets prospect pool isn’t as deep as it used to be, but the team still has several options to bring up to the big club next year. Rookie defencemen Samberg and Chisholm could also make the jump with these three Moose players.