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Cheveldayoff, Jets move into first round of Draft after deal with Rangers

Jets now select 20th overall and acquire Pionk in exchange for Trouba

by Mitchell Clinton @MitchellClinton / WinnipegJets.com

WINNIPEG - Since the Winnipeg Jets season came to an end, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff knew his off-season 'to-do' list was a lengthy one.

Over the course of the last few weeks, he's signed goaltender Laurent Brossoit to a one-year deal, inked a few entry-level contracts, and acquired a fifth-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft.

On Monday, Cheveldayoff made his next move.

That move involved trading restricted free agent defenceman Jacob Trouba to the New York Rangers. In return, the Jets pick up the 20th overall pick in this weekend's draft, as well as RFA defenceman Neal Pionk.

"It's a necessary step for us to begin the process of the work we have to do in the summer time," said Cheveldayoff via conference call, roughly 30 minutes after the deal was announced.

"We would love to keep everybody and we would love to have the cap space to sign everybody to the extensions that they deserve. We'd love to take another swing with the group we have here. There are realities in a hard cap world."

Trouba played 408 games over six seasons with the Jets. The ninth overall selection in the 2012 NHL Draft scored 42 goals and added 137 assists over that span. He recorded a career-high 50 points in 2018-19, but an extension with the 25-year-old wasn't in the cards according to Cheveldayoff.

"He's someone we saw grow and develop but obviously he had some personal things that he wanted to see come to fruition. Being one year from unrestricted free agency, he had that prerogative going forward," said Cheveldayoff.

"He's our second first round pick. There is always that fondness of someone you drafted in the organization and he's played hard for our organization for a period of six years. We wish him all the best."

Video: OFF SEASON | Kevin Cheveldayoff

Like Trouba, Pionk is a right-handed defenceman. After going undrafted, Pionk signed with the Rangers on May 1, 2017. Since then, in 101 NHL games, the Hermantown, Minnesota product has seven goals and 40 points in those games.

The 23-year-old Pionk won an NCAA title with the University of Minnesota-Duluth in 2016-17, while also being named to the NCAA tournament's All-Tournament Team.

He's also represented the United States on the international stage, helping them to a bronze medal at the 2018 IIHF World Hockey Championship with two goals and three points in 10 games. He's also a restricted free agent with arbitration rights, but Cheveldayoff said that wasn't an issue when the deal was negotiated.

"He's a player that when you do the research on him and you talk to different people about him, he's a competitor," said Cheveldayoff, who sees Pionk as an option on the penalty kill in addition to five-on-five play.

The Rangers used Pionk on the power play as well.

"Where his total usage will be, that will shake out even more so as we get closer to training camp. It gives (Jets head coach) Paul (Maurice) some options," said Cheveldayoff. "Obviously a young player that we see still has upside and room to grow given the experience in the league and given the surroundings of our group."

With training camp still months away, Cheveldayoff's focus is much more immediate. He and his team now have a first round pick in this weekend's draft, giving them five total for the weekend.

"I really think there are going to be players we see at (20th overall) that we're going to have higher on our list," Cheveldayoff said. "When you get into the 20s as we are, you have to expect the unexpected. We think that given the Combine and how the list has fallen out in our own estimation that we're going to get a good player there."

Cheveldayoff said conversations leading up to Monday's trade are just part of a lead-up to the draft where an "unprecedented" amount of discussion is occurring between the league's 31 general managers.

The Jets aren't the only team with work to do in terms of signing free agents (Winnipeg still has six unrestricted free agents and seven restricted free agents from last season's roster to negotiate deals with), but Cheveldayoff believes the announcement of the 2019-20 salary cap will help things get rolling.

"Hopefully that will come down in the next couple days as it traditionally does," Cheveldayoff said. "We have lots of moving parts, or balls in the air, whatever term or analogy you want to put into it. We have a challenging summer ahead of us."

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