2019 Winnipeg Jets NHL Entry Draft Recap

Ville Heinola Leads The Way As Jets Add to Prospect Pool

The Winnipeg Jets returned to familiar territory at the NHL Entry Draft, finding another Finn, defenseman Ville Heinola, to draft with their first selection, 20th overall.

The Jets had originally traded their 1st round selection to the New York Rangers at the trade deadline in a deal that also included Brendan Lemieux, in exchange for Kevin Hayes.  The Jets reacquired the selection when sending Jacob Trouba to the Rangers in exchange for Neal Pionk and this pick.  In all the Jets drafted just 5 players this year, the lowest amount since the team returned to Winnipeg.  Drafted were 2 defensemen, 2 forwards and a goalie. Heinola was joined by another Finn, Henri Nikkanen, while Simon Lundmark of Sweden rounded out the Europeans.  Harrison Blaisdell of Canada and Logan Neaton from the United States added some North American flavour to the draft for the Jets.

Round 1, 20th overall: Ville Heinola

Team: Lukko (Liiga)

Position: D

Shoots: Left

Date of Birth: March 2, 2001

Place of Birth: Honkajoki, Finland

Height: 5’11”

Weight: 181 lbs

Player Comparable: Miro Heiskanen

2018-19 Liiga Regular Season Stats: GP: 34  G: 2  A: 12  PTS: 14  PIM: 26  Plus/Minus: +7

2018-19 Jr. A SM-liiga Regular Season Stats: GP: G: A: PTS: PIM: Plus/Minus: -2

Once finding themselves back in the first round, the Winnipeg Jets got their hands on another Finnish prospect, Ville Heinola. 3 years ago the Jets selected Patrik Laine out of Finland and returned to the country the following season for Kristian Vesalainen.  The Jets were Finn-less last year at the draft, selecting David Gustafsson in the second round as their only European pick.

Heading into the draft, I made a five-man list of players I wanted the Jets to select at #20 if they were available.  The first guy on my list actually went way higher than I expected.  I really liked Moritz Seider’s play against men over in Germany and saw him as a high riser who reminded me of Trouba.  I figured he would go somewhere in the teens and was holding out hope that he would drop to the Jets at 20.  I was surprised when Detroit selected him sixth overall. With Seider off the table, next on my list was Cameron York.  I really liked his offensive abilities and elite hockey sense.  He went about where I expected (14th to Philadelphia) but he was another guy that I had circled for the Jets.

I also had Philip Tomasino (24th to Nashville) and Ryan Suzuki (28th to Carolina). I was a big fan of Tomasino – a high-compete center who played a tenacious game with a lot of heart.  In my opinion, one of the Jets biggest problems this past season was their lack of heart, and Tomasino also provides sandpaper that was sorely missed when Brendan Lemieux was dealt. Meanwhile, I was in love with Suzuki’s smarts and hockey IQ but had concerns over his softness and perimeter play.  The fifth player (though I had him above Tomasino and Suzuki, but behind Seider and York) on my list was Ville Heinola.

Side note: Heading into the draft, I didn’t have Cole Caufield or Peyton Krebs on my list, because I figured they would be selected long before the Jets came up to the podium.  As they began to fall, I hoped that at least one of them would fall to 20. Unfortunately, Caufield went 15th to Montreal and Krebs went to Vegas at 17.

I anticipated Heinola going just before the Jets pick, figuring he would go around 18th or so.  I had goaltender Spencer Knight and defensemen Thomas Harley and Lassi Thomson below him, so their early selections (Knight, 13th to Florida; Harley, 18th to Dallas and Thomson, 19th to Ottawa) allowed the Jets to snatch up Heinola.

I mentioned on Twitter that I really liked the Heinola pick, and I still do.  When scouting players, one of the most important things for me is hockey sense, along with work ethic.  Skating, strength, stick handling, defense and a plethora of other skills can be worked on and improved upon, but it’s much harder to fix stupid.  Heinola is an extremely smart player with great poise, excellent vision and elite hockey IQ. He simply knows where to be on the ice and rarely makes mistakes.

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He’s very mobile and fantastic at carrying and breaking out the puck.  His good shot, silky hands, and excellent passing make him an ideal QB for the PP.  He reminds me of Josh Morrissey in his junior days.  His sound positioning and IQ enable him to be terrific defensively as well.  He cuts down passing and shooting lanes and uses his stick to force turnovers.  Once he gains possession of the puck, his breakout pass allows the play to continue up the ice.  If no pass is available, Heinola is not afraid to carry the puck into the offensive zone himself.  He’s a smaller player who has some beefing up to do, and he needs to improve his speed a bit, but this is a really good pick for the Jets.  Heinola has a great work ethic and climbed up the prospect ranking this past season, so I fully expect him to improve both his strength and his speed.

Another big problem for the Jets last season was their lack of puck-moving defensemen.   After Morrissey, arguably Niku (who was still pretty raw), and occasionally Myers (who has now moved on to Vancouver), who did the Jets really have?  Heinola is likely a few years away, but it’s nice to get a smart, mobile, puck-moving defenseman.

TSN had Dallas Stars’ defenseman Miro Heiskanen as an NHL comparable, and indeed Heinola and Heiskanen had very similar stats in Liiga.  In his draft-eligible year, Heiskanen had 10 points in 37 games for a .27 PPG, while Heinola had 14 points in 34 games for a .41 PPG.  I don’t like putting too much stock into points when rating defensemen, but I would be absolutely overjoyed if Heinola turns into a Heiskanen-lite type player.  For Jet fans, an easier comparison might be Josh Morrissey or Toby Enstrom – a smart, responsible, mobile defenseman who can chip in offensively.

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Although Heinola currently does not have a contract in Europe, I fully expect him to return to Finland next season.  I see him signing his ELC next summer.  He likely plays his first season in North America with the Moose before joining the NHL in time for the 2021-22 season.  If he does return to Europe, I anticipate him being a big player for Finland at the World Juniors this December.  With Logan Stanley, Dylan Samberg, Declan Chisholm, Giovanni Vallati and now Ville Heinola on the left side, coupled with the continued development of Sami Niku, Leon Gawanke and Jonathan Kovacevic on the right, the Winnipeg Jets suddenly find themselves well on the way to improving their defense.  Heinola will have a lot of competition for playing time, but he has the brain, and the pedigree to become an everyday defenseman for the Jets.

Overall, I am a really, really big fan of this pick.  Heinola is a mobile, puck-moving defenseman, which the Jets sorely need, and he is very smart.  Elite hockey IQ like Heinola possesses is something I always look for in prospects, and I commend Kevin Cheveldayoff and the Winnipeg Jets’ scouting staff for finding and selecting a potential future stud in Ville Heinola.

Round 2, 51st overall: Simon Lundmark

Team: Linköpings HC (SHL)

Position: D

Shoots: Right

Date of Birth: October 8, 2000

Place of Birth: Stockholm, Sweden

Height: 6’2”

Weight: 201 lbs

Player Comparable: Travis Hamonic

2018-19 SHL Regular Season Stats: GP: 28  G: 0  A: 3  PTS: 3  PIM: 6  Plus/Minus: -9

2018-19 J20 SuperElit Regular Season Stats: GP: 25 G: A: 15 PTS: 17 PIM: 10 Plus/Minus: +12

The Jets added another European defenseman with their second-round pick, 51st overall.  Simon Lundmark is a big, mobile two-way defenseman who spent time in Sweden’s top hockey league this past season as an 18-year-old.  He was ranked as high as 61 among 2019 draft eligible prospects, and perhaps more importantly – he rose through Bob McKenzie and TSN’s rankings as the year wore on.  In past drafts, the Jets have found success in picking draft ranking risers.  Last year’s team-leading goal scoring, Mark Scheifele, was generally ranked lower than the 7th overall spot where he was selected, but Jets’ brass were struck by his improvement in play throughout the year.  Logan Stanley was another first round pick that the Jets selected due to his work ethic and improvement.

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Lundmark likes to use his size to his advantage – he is strong on the boards and very physical.  He’s a crease-clearing menace in front of the net but is very disciplined.  Despite his size, Lundmark does not lack speed. On the contrary, he has high-end top speed. Perhaps Lundmark’s greatest asset is his positioning.  His astute hockey sense enables him to consistently be in the right area.  He is rarely caught out of position.  To reach the NHL, Lundmark will have to improve on his shot, but the smarts, speed, and strength are all already there.  While playing in Sweden’s top junior league last year, Lundmark was able to put his offensive skills on display, putting up a very nice 17 points in 25 games.  He was called up to the SHL to end the season and played much more conservatively against men.  He didn’t have nearly the offensive output, but he was able to stay in the league with exceptional defense.  While he considers himself a two-way defender now, I think he is more likely to make the NHL on his defensive ability.  He stylistically compares to Manitoban and Calgary Flame defender Travis Hamonic, and Lundmark’s highest potential is likely a lite version of him.

Round 4, 113th overall: Henri Nikkanen

Position: C

Shoots: Left

Date of Birth: April 28, 2001

Place of Birth: Mikkeli, Finland

Height: 6’2”

Weight: 185 lbs

Player Comparable: Erik Haula

2018-19 Liiga Regular Season Stats: GP: 9  G: 2  A: 0  PTS: 2  PIM: 0  Plus/Minus: +1

2018-19 Jr. A SM-Liiga Regular Season Stats: GP: 14 G: A: PTS: PIM: 18 Plus/Minus: 0

Hockey pundits are lauding the Winnipeg Jets for using their 4th round selection, 113th overall to take Henri Nikkanen out of Mikkeli, Finland, with some analysts ascribing him as the potential steal of the draft.  At the beginning of the season, Nikkanen was touted as a potential first round pick (in fact, at one point, he and Kaapo Kakko were neck and neck for top Finnish prospect in the 2019 draft, but an injury severely limited his games played total and his draft stock plummeted as a result.  Despite his injuries, he spent time playing in Liiga, Finland’s top league, where he scored twice in 9 games.  He also put up 9 points in 14 games at the junior level this season.

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Nikkanen is a big, strong center with solid skating and excellent hands.  To remain a center at the NHL level, Nikkanen will have to greatly improve his face-off abilities, but his skill set – strong, physical board play with great speed and hands – could allow his game to translate to the wing.  Concerns about his hockey sense and consistency leave a stain on his reputation, but he could still end up as a fine pick, especially given where he was drafted.  Additionally, he has captained both the Finland U16 and U17 national teams. A natural leader with a great work ethic, Nikkanen is well-known to stand up for his teammates.  A player of Nikkanen’s character is almost certain to be a welcome addition to the Jets’ locker room.  Future Considerations had Nikkanen ranked as the 71st best prospect in the draft, even with his injury-riddled season.

Round 5, 134th overall: Harrison Blaisdell

Team: Chilliwack Chiefs (BCHL)

Position: C

Shoots: Left

Date of Birth: March 18, 2001

Place of Birth: Born in England, grew up in Regina, Saskatchewan

Height: 5’11”

Weight: 181 lbs

Player Comparable: Brad Marchand (stylistically), Brandon Tanev

2018-19 BCHL Regular Season Stats GP: 51 G: 33  A: 25  PTS: 58  PIM: 35  Plus/Minus: N/A

With the 5th round pick that the team acquired by trading the rights of Kevin Hayes to the Philadelphia Flyers, the Winnipeg Jets selected center Harrison Blaisdell from the Chilliwack Chiefs of the Junior A British Columbia Hockey League.  Blaisdell, a former WHL Bantam Draft 2nd round pick, was ranked as high as #60 by eliteprospects.com and #61 by Hockeyprospect.com.  The Athletic’s Corey Pronman also had him in his top 107 prospects for the 2019 draft.  He won the National Junior A Championship, the RBC Cup, with the Chiefs in 2018 and was over a point-per-game this past season.  He is committed to play NCAA hockey next season straight south from Winnipeg just off the I-29 at the University of North Dakota.

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Blaisdell is a hardworking, tenacious center with elite skating and a tendency to crash the net.  He is not afraid of a physical game and scores many goals by cleaning up the garbage in front of the net.  His fearlessness allows him to get his good shot off from high-danger areas.  Harrison’s father, Mike, was a first-round selection back at the 1980 NHL Entry Draft who played for four different NHL teams throughout the majority of the 1980s.  Blaisdell is a lightning-fast skater with great agility and quick acceleration.  He can stop on a dime and has very good balance, allowing him to twist and turn away from defenders.  He has his struggles defensively (but is pretty decent still for a young player) and is dreadful at faceoffs.  As a result, his style and skill set might translate better at the pro level as a Brandon Tanev-type winger.  At the draft, Blaisdell was actually quoted as saying, “I compare myself to Brad Marchand, just obviously without doing all of that other stuff.”  If he can safely toe the line that Marchand all too often crosses while also chipping in some offense, Blaisdell could be a huge steal for the Jets.

As I mentioned earlier, one of the guys that I was looking at #20 for the Jets was center Philip Tomasino from the OHL’s Niagara IceDogs.  I really liked his compete and his style.  Instead, the Jets went with Heinola and Tomasino went to Nashville four picks later.  Blaisdell, while not as highly skilled as Tomasino, plays a very similar style with big compete.  His work ethic is outstanding, and he reminds me of Brandon Tanev on the ice, both in size and in style.  Like Tanev, Blaisdell is always giving his best no matter the game and no matter the score.  In addition to his work ethic and compete, Blaisdell is a gifted leader.  He wore an A on his jersey for the Chiefs this past season despite only being a 17-year old in his second season with the club.  His defense needs some work, but he has the tools and the work ethic to make it to the pro level, whether as a center or on the wings.

Round 5, 144th overall: Logan Neaton

Team: Prince George Spruce Kings (BCHL)

Position: G

Catches: Left

Date of Birth: April 7, 1999

Place of Birth: Brighton, Michigan

Height: 6’2”

Weight: 181 lbs

Player Comparable: Connor Hellebuyck

2018-19 BCHL Regular Season Stats: 32-8-5 SV%: .914 GAA: 1.92

The Jets went with a goalie in the fifth round, heading back to the BCHL to pick Logan Neaton from the Prince George Spruce Kings. The Michigan native was the 13th goalie selected, 144th overall.  He joins Mikhail Berdin, Arvid Holm and Jared Moe as the fourth goalie that the Jets have drafted since 2016.  I would think that the Jets’ management probably figure that they don’t have much behind Berdin (who is now pushing for a starting job in the AHL) in terms of goalie prospects.  Both Holm and Moe, while young, took a bit of a step back last season.  Goaltending in the draft is a bit of a crapshoot, so it’s not a bad idea to pick up a goalie and let him develop.

I don’t dislike the pick, but there were other goalies that I would’ve liked at this spot.  I would’ve went with either Filip Lindberg (Minnesota, 197th overall, had a .934 save percentage playing college hockey this past year, is the same age as Neaton), Roddy Ross (Philadelphia, 169th overall, .919 save percentage with Seattle in the WHL, is a year younger than Neaton) or Dustin Wolf (Calgary, 214th overall, .936 save percentage with Everett in the WHL, two years younger than Neaton).  I also thought that the Jets might go with a local product, and draft Brandonite Trent Miner out of the Vancouver Giants.  The 18-year old sported a .924 save percentage in the WHL this season while splitting starts with David Tendeck.  Miner would eventually be selected by the Colorado Avalanche with the 202nd pick in the draft.

Despite this, as I said, I still don’t dislike the pick. Neaton put up solid, though unspectacular numbers in a lower league while being older than the aforementioned goaltenders, but I’m merely looking at statistics, and haven’t seen any of these goalies actually play much.  Neaton has a fantastic GAA, which, combined with his .914 save percentage, leads me to hypothesize that the Spruce Kings played great team defense.  One thing that I really like about Neaton, is that his numbers in the playoffs were fantastic. Incredibly, he went 16-1 during the BCHL playoffs with a 1.46 GAA and a .940 throughout the playoffs, with a 1.84 GAA and a .936 save percentage in the Doyle Cup (league final).  In the national championship tournament, the RBC Cup, Neaton maintained an outstanding .938 save percentage to go along with a 1.52 GAA – so, he seems to be a guy whose game gets stronger as the pressure gets higher.  If he continues to improve and has a steep upward trajectory, then he could very well turn out to be a better netminder than any of the goalies that I mentioned.

Neaton, like incumbent Jet starting netminder Connor Hellebuyck, will play college hockey for UMass-Lowell, as he is committed to the school for next season.  In further relation to Hellebuyck, Neaton is a Michigan-born goaltender who played for a Michigan high school hockey team.  Despite being an overager in the draft, Neaton is a long ways away from the pro game, never mind the NHL.   Goalies generally take longer to develop, as Hellebuyck didn’t see full-time NHL duty until he was 23 years old.  Hellebuyck spent two years playing college, a full season in the AHL and a season split between the AHL and NHL.  He had very good numbers (especially in college), but did not become a regular starter for the Jets until 4 years after his draft year.  Neaton was drafted a year older than Hellebuyck, but his development time is still likely at least equally as long.

As mentioned, Neaton is headed to play NCAA hockey next season, which I think is good for his development.  He wouldn’t benefit much by playing another year of Junior A as a 20-year old. Major junior would be stiffer competition, but he might find himself in a bind to make a roster as an overager with no previous major junior experience.  Assuming he wins the starting job with UMass-Lowell, college hockey will be an appropriate step up for Neaton, and if he excels at that level he’ll find himself being offered a pro contract.  From there, he would spend 1 to 3 years in the AHL, and if he continues to progress, he’ll get his NHL shot – but that’s a long way off.  If he were to reach his full potential, I would think he likely gets three years in the NCAA, and two full years in the AHL before making his NHL debut, likely initially in a backup role.  If he makes the NHL in 5 years, Connor Hellebuyck will be 31 years old and a UFA. Importantly, Neaton can’t be looked at as a Hellebuyck replacement – at least not yet. It’s good sometimes to grab a goalie late and give him time to develop and see what you have. Neaton joins Holm and Moe as unsigned drafted Jets goalie prospects, and next season he will have to build upon his spectacular Junior A playoff run to be considered for a contract in the future.

Final Thoughts

The Winnipeg Jets really did not have many picks this draft.  They traded the majority of their picks away while adding playoff depth at the deadline, and were only able to recuperate a couple of draft picks by dealing Trouba and Hayes in the past month.  Still, despite only drafting five players, I really like this draft for the Jets. Heinola and Lundmark are both smart, mobile, defensively sound defenders that are great adds to the prospect cupboard.  Nikkanen and Blaisdell were really good value picks for where they were selected – low-risk, high-reward potential.  Neaton is the token goalie pick who went on one heck of a run during the playoffs this past season.  He’ll be given plenty of time to develop his game and attempt to carve out a career in professional hockey.

After not picking in the first round last year, the 2019 NHL Entry Draft allowed the Jets to get another really good, A prospect in the system while also shoring up the depth of the prospect pool in later rounds.  It will be very interesting to look back at this draft in a few years and see how these players pan out.

Final Grade: B+

Favourite Pick: Ville Heinola

Best Value Pick: Harrison Blaisdell


How do you think the Jets did? Are you a fan of the Heinola pick?  Let me know in the comment section, or reach out to me on Twitter, @WHTRiley.  I would love to talk hockey with you.

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Comments

  1. Everett Shade says

    Thank you for all of the analysis. It made for a great read.

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