No one likes to see a man crawling on the ice because he can’t put any weight on his leg.
Unfortunately, that was the scene last night in Winnipeg after Jets defenseman Ville Heinola got tangled up with Erik Brannstrom.
Heinola did not return, and appears to be out for a timeline that could be measured in months, not weeks. It did not look good.
Even more heartbreaking is how well he played at camp and in the preseason. He came to Winnipeg this year after having an outstanding summer, and looked noticeably stronger.
Prior to last night’s game, Rick Bowness was direct with praise, saying he’s put himself in a great spot to make the team.
“We’re very, very happy with where he is. He has done everything he can to make this hockey club,” he said.
That alone was encouraging for Jets fans to hear, as people have rightly wondered whether this franchise was still developing their young talent at a reasonable rate. Given that the top six defensemen were seemingly locked in, with five veterans and Dylan Samberg set to run it back from last year, everyone wondered whether Heinola was destined for the AHL based on waiver exemption, not performance.
Heinola played too well too ignore though, scoring on a well placed far side snipe from on his off-wing Monday, and executing breakouts smoothly throughout the preseason. He’s been decisive in the offensive zone, looks stronger, and was playing with confidence.
If Heinola did make it as the 7th defenseman, it would give the Jets a pure puck moving defenseman as an option, something that, aside from Josh Morrissey, they don’t have. And given the shaky standing that both Neal Pionk and Brendan Dillon are on in my eyes (they have been rather confusing to observe this preseason), Heinola at least presented a chance of making one of the veterans a healthy scratch on occasion. Injuries happen too.
That’s what makes this all so heartbreaking. More so for the player, of course, but also for the fan base. Both Dylan DeMelo and Brendan Dillon are on expiring contracts this year, with Pionk and Schmidt due to expire the following season. Winnipeg would be wise to let some of those contracts expire, and having a 22 year old former first round draft pick who dominated the AHL for two years (63 points in 89 games) ready to receive regular reps was an excellent scenario.
The defense group has also been frustrating at times since Schmidt and Dillon were acquired in 2021 and, at least for me, I’m looking forward to change in that regard over the coming seasons.
But that will have to wait. For now, Logan Stanley and Kyle Capobionco are poised to make the team as the 7th and 8th defenseman.
They’re incredibly unsexy names to join our already unsexy defence group.
But injuries happen, and at least for now, the #freeheinola movement will be talking about the medical room, not the American Hockey League.