Earlier this month, the agent for Ville Heinola told The Hockey News that his client deserved “a shot to play a run of games to show he can do it” at the NHL level. The young defenseman has been bounced up and down between leagues for his whole career so far, failing to get much consistency from the Winnipeg Jets organization. Perhaps now the squeaky wheel will get some grease. Heinola has been recalled to the Jets roster after they moved Mason Appleton to injured reserve.
Of course, given that Appleton is a forward, this could just be more time in the press box for Heinola. The Jets have allowed the fewest goals in the league so far this season and already had seven defensemen on the roster. If he does get in, there’s certainly no guarantee he stays there, though his play in the minor leagues once again suggests he’s ready for a bigger role in the organization.
Since almost the moment he was drafted 20th overall in 2019, Heinola has been on the fringe of the NHL. He made the team out of camp just a few months after being picked, and recorded five points in eight games with the Jets as a rookie. He played another five games the year following, and 12 last season. Interspersed with those short NHL stints have been stretches in the AHL, where he has 45 points in 74 games, but that is sort of where the problem lies. Now in his fourth season in the organization, he has played just 99 regular season games in North America (plus 19 in Finland while leagues here were shut down).
It’s hard to know exactly what Heinola is at this point with such little playing time, though one thing you can be sure of is that he’s not a big, physical presence. As the league moves more and more toward length and reach on defense, some players like Heinola are left on the outside. None of the other seven Jets defensemen are under 6’0″, and the smallest one, Neal Pionk, might be the most physical.
There is definitely NHL upside in the 5’11” Heinola, but it remains to be seen whether the Jets will give him that “shot” he is looking for. At least he’ll be making the NHL portion of his contract for the duration of this latest recall.