Do the Winnipeg Jets acquire players through the draft, trade, or free agency?

Winnipeg Jets, Kevin Cheveldayoff (Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)
Winnipeg Jets, Kevin Cheveldayoff (Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports) /

Editor’s Note: The research for this article was done prior to the Erik Karlsson to Pittsburgh trade. League average statistics used in the article will be inaccurate by a small margin as a result.

The Winnipeg Jets were reborn into the league with a clear and concise mantra: we’re going to draft and develop.

Baked into that was a sense of patience and timing; when that drafted and developed core became good enough, management would strike.

And, ultimately, that’s what they did.

This team has generally stayed true to that mantra, although they have been a part of some big trades over the years. That is largely due to a few key pieces forcing their hand; Patrik Laine wanted out, Jacob Trouba was never going to commit to a Canadian team, and Evander Kane forced his way out in his own unique, special way.

That being said, a lot of players have stuck around. But that draft and develop era, at least for now, is done. You could even say we are now in the drafted and developed era. The way each player on this team has been acquired is much different than it was, say, in 2016, when the Jets had incoming draft talent at nearly every position.

So how did this team come to be? We’ll take a look around the league and compare it to the other teams and determine whether this team is constructed from drafting, trading, free agency, or some combination of the three.

The Jets live on the extremes of the three major category

I went and gathered data from CapFriendly about how each team’s rosters were constructed. There are six categories: Drafted, Signed, Traded, Waivers, Offer Sheet, or Expansion Draft.

Carolina, in the form of Jesperi Kotkaniemi, is the only team with a player via Offer Sheet. As I’m sure you could have guessed, Vegas and Seattle are the only teams with Expansion Draft acquisitions, with 4 and 12 respectively.

League-wide, there are 14 players currently rostered via waivers. The Jets have none.

Otherwise, all other players were acquired via one of the big three categories: draft, free agency, and trades.

And it turns out the Jets have a very distinct way in which they acquire players. There’s no middle ground here, they have a clear and obvious roster construction style.  They place either top five or bottom five in each category.

The league averages are as follows:

Draft: 7.98

Free Agent: 8.13

Trade: 6.59

With the context set, let’s have a look at how this Jets roster is constructed.

Wnnipeg Jets are top 5 in player acquisition through the draft

The Winnipeg Jets roster has the 5th most players in the league through drafting, with 10, according to CapFriendly.

League average was 7.98.

That puts Winnipeg in a 6-way tie for 5th in the league with 10 drafted players, trailing Philadelphia (13), Columbus (12), Buffalo (12), and Anaheim (11). Buffalo is on the precipice of busting their decade long playoffless streak, but otherwise those teams are rebuilding.

Nashville, St. Louis, Edmonton, Toronto, and Montreal all tied with Winnipeg at 10, giving it a distinctly Canadian/Central Division feel to that number.

For the most part, the teams in this category are retooling or rebuilding. Edmonton, Toronto, and Winnipeg appear to be that exception. Is there something about contending Canadian teams that requires homegrown, drafted talent? The data suggests that could be possible. Or, perhaps when you acquire players like Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, and Connor Hellebuyck through the draft, you tend to try and keep them long term. That certainly could have an impact, too.

So, even as the Winnipeg Jets have moved from draft and develop to drafted and developed, it’s clear that this roster is still being built through the draft. The five best players on the team were acquired through the draft and have stuck around, and a smaller, new wave of talent consisting of Cole Perfetti and Dylan Samberg brings some optimism that the model is still working. That yes, we still are drafting and developing despite rarely picking in the top 10 over the past 7 years. If some combination Ville Heinola, Chad Lucius, Rutger McGroarty, Brad Lambert, and Colby Barlow can make the squad over the next year or two, that trend will only continue.

And that’s a good thing, because by and large, this is a drafting team.

As the draft goes, so to do the Jets.

The Jets have acquired almost no one through free agency

When it comes to free agent signings, Winnipeg ranks 2nd lowest in the league with 4, trailing only Montreal who has 3. They’re significantly below the league average of 8.13, which is the highest of the three.

Winnipeg’s number is even somewhat inflated by the fact that both Axel Jonsson-Fjällby, who was acquired via waivers, and Vladislav Namestnikov, who was acquired at last year’s trade deadline, are considered “signed” acquisitions by CapFriendly based on the fact that they were signed on July 1st this summer, meaning they were technically free agents. So that number could be lower based on your own interpretation.

Regardless, this data feeds into the stereotype that players aren’t keen to play here. We have the 2nd fewest amount of signings in the league, two of them were players previously acquired through other means who signed extensions, and the other two, Kyle Capobionco and Laurent Brossoit are depth players.

That also, however, contributes to the Jets’ largely clean cap sheet over the past decade. It hasn’t been perfect, but we have yet to give someone like Loui Eriksson a 6 year contract or David Clarkson a 7 year deal, so, you know, that’s good.

You don’t get burnt if you never play with fire.

The Winnipeg Jets have acquired nearly half of their roster through trade

The final category, trading, is also where Winnipeg ranks in the top 5, with the 3rd most players on their roster via trade. Chicago and Montreal both lead the league with 12 each, while Winnipeg ties with New Jersey for the 3rd most, with 10.

League average was 6.59, the lowest of the three categories.

This ultimately feeds in to what people assume: the Jets need to acquire players through the draft and trade. And this final data point suggests that’s true. Part of it can also be out of necessity: Trouba needed to be traded, and therefore we have Pionk. Laine, and then Dubois, both needed to be traded and now we have three assets on our roster acquired via trade in Gabe Vilardi, Alex Iafallo, and Rasmus Kupari. It also speaks to Chevy filling perceived needs over the past few seasons, acquiring Nino Niederreiter and Vlad Namestnikov for much needed forward depth. Four of our top six defencemen -Neal Pionk, Brendan Dillon, Dylan DeMelo, and Nate Schmidt -were also acquired through trade.

And there you have it. Winnipeg is a drafting and trading team.

In my eyes, Chevyldayoff has done remarkably well when it comes to trades where he was up against the wall and had to move a player who wanted out. His return for Evander Kane was legendary. The Patrik Laine trade was excellent, although Dubois’ tools and potentials left us wanting more when it came to our one-two punch of him and Scheifele. And, without a single game having been played, the return for Dubois appears promising. Not to mention the outrageous return for Andrew Copp and solid pieces for Jacob Trouba.

The final word, however, must go to the fact that this team’s stars were all drafted. Scheifele, Connor Hellebuyck, Josh Morrissey, Nik Ehlers and Kyle Connor were all products of the draft, and none of them top were 5 picks. If the 2024-25 version of the Jets doesn’t feature Scheifele and Hellebuyck, this exercise suggests the primary (and perhaps only) way for Winnipeg to find sufficient, star-caliber replacements are through the draft.

Jets fans can take some solace and confidence that we do have a history of success at the draft table, with a superb draft record from 2011-2016.

But there’s no guarantee it’ll happen again.

All player acquisition data via CapFriendly.