The Winnipeg Jets have signed Ville Heinola to a three-year entry-level contract, after picking him in the first round of June’s draft. Heinola played last season in Finland’s top professional league and will end up back there this season if he doesn’t find a way to crack the Jets’ roster right away. That would mean his contract will slide forward at least one year and not kick in for the 2019-20 season.
What Heinola did last year as an undersized 17-year old defenseman was extremely impressive, suiting up not only at the highest level in Finland but also finding great success there. He registered 18 points in 41 games overall, while also competing internationally in the U18 and U20 World Junior Championships. The Finnish team took home the gold medal at the U20 tournament, where Heinola was a real contributor.
Even standing just 5’10” 176-lbs, the future looks bright for the cerebral defenseman. Heinola excels at moving the puck quickly out of trouble, making the right decision almost every single time to not only diffuse an opportunity in his own end but send his teammates the other way with control. That decision making ability proved strong enough to even compete against professionals and should let him quickly develop into a real option for the Jets.
Amazingly, that opportunity may present itself sooner than one would have thought just a year ago. The Jets’ blue line has been ravaged over the past few weeks, watching Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot leave through free agency and trading Jacob Trouba to the New York Rangers. Though they did bring back Nathan Beaulieu on a one-year deal and have Neal Pionk still to sign, the team’s defensive depth is now razor thin. If Heinola can prove that he’s ready for the NHL there’s no reason why he couldn’t be competing for ice time very soon in Winnipeg.