A return to Finland is the right move for young defenceman Ville Heinola, Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice says.
The 18-year-old suited up for 11 games during his first foray into North American-style hockey, but was reassigned Friday to Lukko Rauma of the Finnish Liiga for the rest of the season.
Heinola had five points (1G, 4A) in eight games for the Jets this season and added an assist in three games with the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League.
"I’m really happy with the decision. It’s absolutely the right place for him to be. We have to be patient with this young man," Maurice said, following practice Saturday.
"He left here (Friday) feeling really good about himself, really good about his impact that he made with the Jets organization and excited to get on with his career. He’s 18, he needs to be playing positive minutes in a positive environment. I’m really happy with the decision and more happy that we drafted him."
Selected in the first round (20th overall) this past June, the left-shooting blue-liner flashed plenty of the wow factor during training camp with his decision-making and puck-moving ability. He made his NHL debut and recorded his first point (an assist) on Oct. 3 in New York against the Rangers. He scored his first goal Oct. 8 against the Penguins in Pittsburgh.
But the heavy NHL game started to take a toll on the slight teen, and he was also a healthy scratch for three games before being sent down to the Moose.
"There aren’t 18-year-old defencemen playing in the NHL for good reason, because you can ruin them at his build. And his style of game, we don’t want that to change and the American League, there’s a lot of heavy, heavy forwards and it’s actually harder for a guy like Ville to play at that level because it’s not defined," Maurice said.
"We want him to train to be a certain kind of defenceman and we’re not worried about what year it is that he plays for the Winnipeg Jets. We want him to be that kind of defenceman. He can continue along his development path of being a puck-moving, power-play guy back home. And whether he comes in and makes our team or plays for the Moose next year, the most important thing is we get the Ville Heinola we know he can be as that player at some point in the future."
Luca Sbisa isn’t looking too far into the future — he’s just happy with his current lot in life.
The latest addition to the Winnipeg defensive corps said he’s enjoying every moment spent in his new surroundings with his new teammates, and is comfortable in whatever role the NHL club asks him to play.
Sbisa, 29, played his fifth game with Winnipeg on Friday and has 509 career games under his belt, split between Philadelphia, Anaheim, Vancouver, Vegas and the New York Islanders.
"I basically met everyone on the plane to Regina — just a great group of guys," said Sbisa, who was claimed off waivers Oct. 23, just a day after he signed a one-year contract with the Ducks, and accompanied the Jets to the Heritage Classic. "I’ve been here a week, yet it feels so much longer. Some teams are a bit more challenging to find that fit, but this team has been probably the easiest so far.
"My mindset coming here is to take whatever I can get and make the most of it. If I’m thrown in every three games, great. If I get five minutes or 25 minutes, whatever. I just want to make the best of it."
In each of his stops the past few years, Sbisa has been viewed as a bit of a reclamation project. He’s big — 6-3, 210 pounds — and he skates well. However, his defensive reads over the course of his career have been suspect. But he’s done an adequate job on Winnipeg’s depleted back end.
"He’s a pro defenceman," Maurice said. "He understands what he’s good at and he’s not trying to add two or three more layers to impress people. He’s that stand-up guy. He’ll block shots, he’ll hit and he’s over 500 games, but at 18 minutes a night. He’s a pro. I had him at the World Cup and he’s a really good man, and I knew he’d fit into our room. He’s happy and we’re happy."
The Jets remain the least-penalized team in the NHL this season, with an average of 4.6 penalty minutes per game. That’s a good thing, because the Central Division squad’s penalty killers are running at just a 72.2 per cent efficiency rating — third-worst behind only the Detroit Red Wings (67.2) and Los Angeles Kings (70.9). The numbers have been trending up, though, since the Heritage Claccic.
Winnipeg has taken just 34 minor penalties in 17 games this season, less than half the 77 minor penalties NHL-leading Calgary had taken prior to its matchup with the St. Louis Blues on Saturday night.
The Jets have taken two penalties or less in a dozen of their 17 games this season. Only blue-liner Dmitry Kulikov has hit double-digits in penalty minutes (12).
Assistant 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).