There were four pieces that the Jets received from the Pierre-Luc Dubois trade last June: Gabe Vilardi, Alex Iafallo, Rasmus Kupari, and a 2024 2nd round pick.
Vilardi is the centerpiece. Kupari is the “other guy”, the 2nd round pick is a nice asset, and Iafallo is… the middle piece that’s nice to have.
Well, he might be more than just nice to have, and if his impact Wednesday night is anything we can expect with regularity, then Iafallo looks like a much needed swiss army knife for Rick Bowness and his staff.
Iafallo is a veteran in the league, now playing in his 7th season in the NHL. The 29 year old was undrafted, and after playing four seasons at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, earned an NHL contract with the Kings. He immediately made the team, and played 75 games in the big leagues, never suiting up for a single game in the minors.
He’s earned every penny he’s made in the NHL, going from a $925k salary on his first deal, to a $2.425 million on his second, to the $4 million salary he now earns after signing a four year contract in April of 2021.
It must have stung that he got moved just as Los Angeles was poised to take the next step, given that he was one of the players who suffered through their rebuild. He was no doubt dreaming that the Kings could get beyond the first round in at least one of the two years remaining on his deal.
But, for better or for worse, the sting of Iafallo being moved turns into a benefit for the Jets. He’ll be motivated to get a fresh opportunity for a team that desperately needed a player of his skill set.
He’s skated in a third line role but is also a contributor on the top power play. He looked good playing both below the goal line and in the bumper position, with freedom between him and Vilardi to switch depending on which side of the ice the puck is on. Kyle Connor used him often down low, which was a good early sign of trust between the two.
He’s also a pro who understands what it takes to win hockey games. He’s not afraid to get to the net.
Which is exactly what happened on his first goal as a Winnipeg Jet. He skillfully deflected a point shot from Dylan DeMelo, mere seconds after just missing on a previous attempt. Two net front tip attempts in five seconds, and one of them finds the twine. You gotta love it.
It’s a great debut for a player that Winnipeg needs to be successful. The Jets lost top six talent in Dubois and Blake Wheeler over the offseason, and on paper the team looks less lethal.
But it’s significantly deeper, and the Jets will require offense by committee.
Last year’s team didn’t quite recover from the loss of Andrew Copp, missing his versatile skill set and ability to play up and down the lineup and on both special teams.
Iafallo can’t quite play center. But he looks like the perfect Copp replacement, a player that I’d have no problem seeing play on the top line if Bowness decides he needs to spread the love around by shifting Connor or Vilardi off of Scheifele’s wing.
And, depending on the outcome of Ehlers crashing into the boards at the end of last night’s game, he’d by my first candidate to move up onto that second line.
3 thoughts from last night’s 5-3 loss in Calgary
- Boy, does Dylan Samberg seem like he has the green light to mobilize offensively. He chased his own dump in on the forecheck a few times, and was below the opposition’s hash marks trying to win pucks and keep plays alive. Of course, his defensive game needs to stay strong as he tries to grow on the offensive side of the puck, but at 6 foot 3 with good mobility, defending appears to come somewhat natural to him. Confidence in his own offensive game is nice to see. He’ll be intriguing to watch all year.
- Cole Perfetti seemed a little snake bitten all evening, having pucks bounce off his stick and mishandling a few, including a great pass from Morrissey that didn’t end up resulting in a shot on goal. He also got crushed in the faceoff dot, as expected. Looking forward to more growth from the youngster.
- The top line was plainly dominant last night. Both Connor and Scheifele were rewarded with goals (a classic snipe from #55), but their underlying metrics were impressive. They controlled 84% of the shot attempts according to Natural Stat Trick, which is pure domination. The eye test came to similar conclusions, with Scheifele and Connor getting tons of puck touches, and Vilardi predictably being the third wheel. A very encouraging start, especially to see Connor score early after being snake bitten to start last season.