Currently, the Winnipeg Jets have six prospects loaned to overseas teams. Those young players are keeping sharp and honing their skills close to home as the 2020-21 NHL season will not start until January at the earliest.
While under the conditions of these loans, they will return to North America prior to NHL training camp, they’re currently making good on their opportunities to help their countries’ clubs. Here’s a brief look at how each player is doing thus far.
The flashy Russian goalie with a penchant for playing the puck has taken over the crease for the KHL’s SKA St. Petersburg and is playing in the exact same way he did for the past two seasons as a member of the Manitoba Moose, throwing body checks behind the net and making unorthodox, outrageous saves.
The 21-year-old, who many consider to be the heir apparent to the Jets’ backup role next season, is 4-3-2 with a 2.64 GAA and .909 SV% in 10 games. He also has an assist.
Gawanke was loaned to the DEL’s Eisbären Berlin, his hometown team, back in September. However, the start of the season has been delayed due to COVID-19. The league intended to begin in mid-November, but has had to push that date back.
Gawanke turned heads in his 2019-20 rookie campaign with the Moose as he rose from a player in and out of the lineup as a healthy scratch to the quarterback of their top power play. He paced all Moose blue-liners in points with 26.
Gustafsson, who played 22 games with the Jets at the beginning of last season before playing in the World Juniors for Sweden and then the Moose, is lighting it up in the HockeyAllsvenskan League for Tingsryds AIF as their first-line centre thus far.
The 20-year-old 2018 selection has posted two goals and six assists in eight games and will compete for a bottom-six role on the Jets upon his return this winter.
The Jets’ top defensive prospect has played six games with Lukko Rauma of SM-liiga on their top d-pairing, and has recorded four assists while skating an average of 18:38.
Heinola also finished the 2019-20 season there, playing 29 games, after turning heads in eight games for the Jets to begin the season and representing Finland at the 2020 World Juniors.
The 2019 20th-overall selection will certainly challenge for a full-time spot on the Jets’ in-flux blue line in 2020-21.
Another Jet playing in the SM-liiga is 23-year-old joona Luoto. He has recorded two goals and two assists in eight games with HIFK Helsinki (he faced Heinola and Lukko Rauma on Oct. 16 and scored a goal.)
Signed prior to the 2019-20 season as a free agent out of Tappara Tampere, he played 16 games with the Jets last season, recording no points, and 18 games with the Moose, registering four assists before an upper-body injury that required surgery ended his season.
Vesalainen is the latest player to be loaned to the SM-liiga. After not finding a team for the beginning of theSM-liiga season, he was finally sent to HPK Hämeenlinna on Wednesday.
HPK played Friday but Vesalainen didn’t suit up. He could make his debut Saturday or next week. Perhaps he can be the spark HPK needs as they only have one win in eight games to start the season.
The 24th-overall 2017 pick suited up for 60 games with the Moose last season, recording 12 goals and 18 assists. Once thought as one of the Jets’ top prospects, he’s been slower to develop than the team has hoped. He played five games for the Jets in 2018-19 before opting to head to the KHL’s Jokerit rather than stay in North America and play for the Moose.
Could Jets’ Sniper Suit Up For Hometown Team Soon?
A recent article from Ilto Salamat, Finland’s second-largest newspaper, reported that Patrik Laine has begun training on Tappara Tampere ice, alongside the Florida Panthers’ Alexsander Barkov and the Buffalo Sabres’ Henri Jokiharju.
According to Tappara sports director Jukka Rautakorpi, the trio is not involved in team training, but are doing small group and individual exercises on the ice.
However, there have been no discussions about any of them joining the SM-liiga team yet, Rautakorpi said.
Declan Schroeder is a 26-year-old communications specialist and freelance journalist in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He holds a diploma in Creative Communications with a major in journalism from Red River College and a bachelors in Rhetoric and Communications from the University of Winnipeg.
Deeply rooted in the city’s hockey culture, the original Jets skipped town when he was two and the 2.0 version came onto the scene when he was 17.