The Curious Case of Ville Heinola and the Winnipeg Jets

Ville Heinola #14, Winnipeg Jets. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
Ville Heinola #14, Winnipeg Jets. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images) /

Want to start a Twitter fight unrelated to Elon Musk? Advance a Ville Heinola argument on “Winnipeg Jets Twitter”.

Opinions vary, tempers boil, and the fever pitch repeats itself any time the Jets struggle defensively. Heinola himself has ostensibly weighed in on the debate (through his agent) by expressing his displeasure with his inability to get minutes with the Club.

So, what is going on here? Why does he seem to be at the epicenter of most Jets’ discourse? Let’s start with the facts.

Drafted in the first round (20th overall) in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, Heinola has played 25 games for the Jets, registering a goal and 9 assists with a plus/minus of -1. The plus/minus stat became obsolete with fax machines, but it is a decent reference point. Digging a little deeper, all of Heinola’s advanced stats are a smidge below average – Corsi, Fenwick, and Expected Goals included.

For context though, 25 games is a small sample size, and most Winnipeg Jets defensemen have been below average for years. The larger question is organizational. First round picks are like scotch – you must nurture and cultivate them in order to realize their true value. In this writer’s opinion, the Jets have treated Heinola like malt liquor.

What are the Winnipeg Jets Doing With Ville Heinola?

Some will argue that Heinola hasn’t cracked the roster because he is a liability defensively. While offensively gifted, he is too small, and too frail to endure the rigors of being an NHL defenseman.

Yet, Heinola’s net front clearance and defensive breakout metrics are no different (and sometimes better) than Stanley, Dillon, Pionk, and Samberg. The “Bigger is Better” illusion clouds the mind and obfuscates certain realties, such as: Toby Enstrom was better in his defensive end than Dustin Byfuglien. You just don’t need to be big to be a good defenseman in today’s NHL (although it doesn’t hurt).

Also, we just have too many defensive prospects. I covered the plight of the Winnipeg Jets D core here. Between Heinola, Capobianco, Samberg, Chisholm, and Stanley we have 5 guys vying for 1 spot. The Jets just gave Kovacevic away for free, who is now playing regular minutes for the Habs.

The trades for Schmidt and Dillon compounded Heinola’s fate. The organization felt it had to take some large swings to capitalize on a short playoff window, but did so at the expense of developing its youth. Dillon and Schmidt are playing much better this year (Schmidt especially), but it has created a logjam that even a Canada Vignette can’t romanticize.

The literal elephant in the room is Logan Stanley. In no world can I accept that Heinola, given an opportunity to develop over a protracted period of time, is not appreciably better than Lurch on Ice. This comes down to asset management. I understand that depth is important, but this isn’t Pablo Neruda.

If there is no perceivable future for Heinola – trade him while he is still an asset. Otherwise, let’s give him a shot. His offensive upside alone is worth the risk, and he could be valuable on the power play.

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The Jets need to avoid the sunk cost fallacy. Having assets for the sake of having assets is only good for hoarders, and I guess Elon Musk.

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