Heinola, Gustafsson crack Jets’ season-opening roster


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Ville Heinola and David Gustafsson are officially numbered. Their days with the Winnipeg Jets, at least for now, are not.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/09/2019 (1278 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Ville Heinola and David Gustafsson are officially numbered. Their days with the Winnipeg Jets, at least for now, are not.

The European teens were long shots at best to earn employment with the Jets this season. Both were expected to get a taste of the NHL way of life during training camp before resuming their careers back home in Finland and Sweden, respectively.

Yet, it appears the two indisputable surprises of camp will crack the team’s roster for the start of the 2019-20 NHL season.

Heinola, just 18, a smart, slick-skating defenceman selected in the first round (20th overall) of the NHL Draft just over three months ago, and Gustafsson, a 19-year-old two-way centre taken in the second round (60th overall) in 2018, were given NHL sweater numbers Monday.

Heinola will don No.14, last worn by long-departed tough guy Anthony Peluso, while Gustafsson was outfitted with No. 19, most recently seen on the back of Nic Petan. Heinola and Gustafsson had been wearing assigned training camp digits until now.

“We’re seeing some real interesting things emerge with some of the younger players. Ville Heinola, (David) Gustafsson, two young players that have had exceptional camps here,” Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said Monday.

Winnipeg has 24 players on its roster, although the health of two — centre Bryan Little and blue-liner Sami Niku — remains a question mark.

Little took a shoulder to the head from Minnesota Wild forward Luke Kunin in the first period Sunday in the Jets’ final pre-season game, required help leaving the ice and did not return, presumably following concussion protocol.

Niku, meanwhile, has been dealing with a groin injury for much of camp. He appeared in just one pre-season game, but looked comfortable skating Monday afternoon at Bell MTS Place with Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor.

Winnipeg must get down to the league-mandated 23-player roster by Tuesday afternoon, meaning one move remains. That could involve putting either Little or Niku on injured reserve.

“Yeah, I don’t have much on (Little’s condition) yet. He’s going to get evaluated further here (Monday). Obviously the group is not on the ice so I don’t have an update in that regard,” said Cheveldayoff.

Coach Paul Maurice took umbrage with the hit, but the NHL apparently viewed it as accidental and won’t be disciplining Kunin.

The Jets trimmed their roster by five Monday, sending goalie Eric Comrie, defenceman Nelson Nogier and forwards C.J. Suess, Joona Luoto and JC Lipon to the Manitoba Moose. Comrie, Nogier and Lipon must clear waivers by Tuesday’s 11 a.m. CT deadline before reporting to the American Hockey League club.

Only Luoto’s demotion was mildly surprising after the undrafted 22-year-old had a strong showing in training camp, and he’ll be given an opportunity to play a prominent role for Moose head coach Pascal Vincent.

Heinola, meanwhile, occupied a spot around Laine’s table for Sunday supper. Laine, a three-time 30-goal scorer fresh off signing a new two-year, $13.5-million contract, and his fellow countryman have already become full-fledged members of the mutual admiration society.

“It seems like he’s a great kid. I’ve seen some nice comments from him about me. I always like nice comments. He seems like a great guy and he’s had a really good camp. I’ve seen a couple of games and I think he’s been unreal as an 18-year-old. It was a fun (Sunday) night with him,” said Laine.

“I think he looks good, especially on the ice. I haven’t seen here how he does off the ice but the games that I’ve seen, I think he’s been really good. You can still see that he’s an 18-year-old. He’s probably a little bit weak still but he’ll get more muscles and more weight over the years. You can see from a guy if he’s a really good player, and he is. Hopefully, he’ll get to play some games and show what he’s capable of.”

Heinola would burn a year off his three-year entry level contract should he play more than nine NHL games this season. As a European taken in the first round, he is eligible to play in the AHL and playing with the Moose wouldn’t cost the Jets the first season of his cheaper deal.

Gustafsson, a second-rounder, is not. His only option, if not with the Jets, is to go back to his pro team in Sweden.


Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
Sports editor

Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).

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