Jets go with Finnish D-man

Take Ville Heinola with 20th pick

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VANCOUVER — Just call them the Finn-ipeg Jets.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/06/2019 (1151 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

VANCOUVER — Just call them the Finn-ipeg Jets.

Ville Heinola doesn’t know much about his new hockey home, except for one thing — they sure do love his country. The 18-year-old defenceman was added to the organizational prospect ranks Friday night, picked 20th-overall in the NHL draft by the Winnipeg Jets.

“I always look up to Patrik Laine. And being in the same organization feels good,” the baby-faced Finn told reporters just moments after having his name called out by the Jets.

JONATHAN HAYWARD / THE CANADIAN PRESS The Jets selected Finnish defenceman Ville Heinola with the 20th pick.

Laine, Sami Niku and Kristian Vesalainen are all Finns selected by the Jets in recent drafts, while the team added free agent Joona Luoto earlier this month. Considering just how dominant Finland has been in recent international hockey competitions, that’s clearly not a bad thing.

“Finnish hockey is now a hot thing. Many gold medals. This year under 20s and men’s. I don’t know what we’re doing right, but we’re doing something right,” said Heinola, who was joined in Vancouver by his mother, father and agent.

Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said this isn’t about targeting a specific nation.

“It just kind of worked out that way. Obviously, you’re taking the best player on your list at that point and time. We’re excited obviously to get a puck-moving defenceman that has hockey sense off the charts. He’s right around six feet in height. He makes and sees the play exceptionally well and that’s what the scouts were drawn to,” Cheveldayoff said.

“He’s played with men. He’s played at a high level already and the experiences that he’s gained and shown that he can play in a men’s league is certainly something that is of great value.”

Heinola had two goals and 14 points in 34 games ast season with Lukko in Liiga l, the top Finnish men’s league. He was a member of the 2019 gold-medal winning world junior team, with a goal and assist in five games before getting injured. He also played for Finland in the U19 world championship, with a goal and three assists in five games.

At 5-10 and 176 pounds, he’s still got room to grow. Various scouting reports paint him as a slick puck-moving defenceman and skater with strong hockey sense and playmaking abilities.

“I think I’m dependable. I can play with the puck and give smart passes,” said Heinola, who models his game after another young Finnish defenceman in Miro Heiskanen of the Dallas Stars.

The Jets didn’t own a first-round draft pick until Monday, when they traded defenceman Jacob Trouba to the New York Rangers in exchange for blue-liner Neal Pionk and the 20th pick, which Winnipeg originally owned and shipped to the Big Apple last February in the Kevin Hayes trade.

Heinola said he had a good meeting with the Jets at the draft combine earlier this month and sensed there was interest. The feeling, he said, was definitely mutual.

“Yeah, I felt good after those meetings,” he said. “It feels awesome. It was a little bit strange when I heard (his name called).”

Heinola is under contract for next season in Europe but didn’t rule out making the jump to pro hockey in North America.

“I hope it’s soon as possible. I think the first year no one think I could play in Liiga. Maybe next year, I hope it’s next year,” he said. “I always dreamed of playing in the NHL.”

Cheveldayoff said every player has their own development path, but there’s reason for optimism with Heinola.

“We just want him to be him and to play his game. He’s something that from a development standpoint, because he’s played with men, he should be on a good development curve,” he said.

The Jets certainly had an opportunity to draft a forward Friday night, with several talented centres still available when they stepped to the podium including Philip Tomasino, Ryan Suzuki, Arthur Kaliyev and Connor McMichael.

“(The draft) developed as we thought it would kind of develop. Again, it’s a testament to our scouts and how they valued and viewed the draft,” said Cheveldayoff. “There was a bit of a flurry at a certain area where you started to see if you could move up maybe, to look at some different things. But teams seemed pretty content in picking what they had in front of them.”

As for Laine, Heinola said it was the booming shot that first caught his eye as a boy growing up in Honkajoki.

“I always look at the way he shoots the puck so hard and scores the goals. When he was my age he was really good and playing international games and dominating the league in Finland,” he said.

Now Heinola is going to be the one looking to make an impact in the NHL. The draft continues today with rounds two through seven. The Jets currently have four picks (51, 113, 134, 144).

 

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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