OTTAWA - Patrik Laine will miss his third consecutive game as the Winnipeg Jets conclude a three-game road trip tonight in Ottawa against the Senators.
However, a fellow Finn will draw into the line-up for the first time this season: Ville Heinola.
"I feel like I'm in good shape right now," said Heinola. "I have a lot of confidence and I feel I'm ready to go today."
Heinola's last NHL game was back on Oct. 22, 2019 which capped off an eight-game run for the Jets 2019 first-round pick. He scored his first NHL goal during that time and started the season with an assist in each of his first two games.
He was 18-years-old then, and he says there is a big difference between that player and the 19-year-old who will be paired with Josh Morrissey tonight.
"I feel I'm stronger and faster," said Heinola. "I have to use my body more. I can be better in the defensive zone and play all-around a lot better now. That's the biggest thing today is to show that."
Since his first NHL games, Heinola has played 48 games with Lukko in Finland's top league (19 of those coming earlier this season). He piled up 21 points over that span, then represented his country at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship. He earned a bronze medal and was named one of the Top 3 Players on his team and was also given a tournament all-star nod.
Morrissey watched a fair bit of the World Juniors and is excited to see how much Heinola's game has grown.
"He came into the NHL as an 18-year-old, you don't see that very often. He played without fear in those games that he was in last season," said Morrissey. "He was able to be really effective for us. Naturally, he looks a little bit stronger, a little bit faster, and probably a little more confident and comfortable than he was a year and a little bit ago now."
The combination of those games with Lukko earlier this season and the World Juniors helped head coach Paul Maurice not be as concerned about the quarantine Heinola has sat through since arriving in Winnipeg on Jan. 8.
"We knew he'd been playing at a high level. That gives him an advantage," said Maurice. "He's a good puck mover. Finding that balance between some size - because we need some size in our line-up - and we need some puck movement."
Maurice also said he'll be keeping the lines the same as they finished in Tuesday's 4-3 overtime victory. The only challenge with inserting Heinola onto a pairing with Morrissey is that both skaters are left-handed, so one will have to play on the off side.
"We're interested in finding the most comfortable righty in that pair," Maurice said. "Josh feels he can play the off side, so does Ville. Being it's Ville's first game, we'll flip them around a little bit to see where they get to in terms of their comfort level."
With Heinola coming in, Sami Niku will come out. The projected lines will look like this:
Despite getting the win in the first of three consecutive meetings with the Senators, there are areas the Jets want to shore up tonight.
One of those is how they start the game. On Tuesday, Andrew Copp, Adam Lowry, and Mason Appleton created chances off the opening puck drop in their first shift. However, the Jets were hemmed in their zone for the following few shifts and, at one point, were outshot 10-1.
"We have to work on that, of course. It's a full 60-minute game and we've been fortunate to have some great goaltending to allow us to get our feet under us and get playing," said Morrissey. "The goal really is to be able to put together a full 60 minutes of quality hockey. We were closer to that last game."
Part of that quick start from Ottawa was a power play goal from Josh Norris that opened the scoring. Ottawa scored twice on the man advantage, meaning the Jets have given up four power play goals total in three games.
Trevor Lewis played 3:36 on the penalty kill on Tuesday and feels playing the same team will help the Jets on the PK.
"The more you play, the more you know their tendencies and the more they know our tendencies too," said Lewis. "It's just getting used to the little things - face-offs, and getting clears when we can and getting fresh guys on the ice. For the most part we've done a pretty good job with that."
Going into Tuesday's game, a lot of the Jets spoke about preparing for Ottawa's forecheck. In that scenario, the Jets were playing their second game in as many nights and expected Ottawa would try to get on them quickly.
While they may be a more rested group tonight, the expectations are the same.
"They give a lot of pressure. I have to be ready for that," said Heinola. "They skate well and skate pretty fast, so we have to be ready for that."
Puck drop is set for 6 pm CT.
-- Mitchell Clinton, WinnipegJets.com
The Winnipeg Jets conclude a three-game road trip tonight in Ottawa. The Jets returned to the win column on Tuesday with a 4-3 overtime victory against the Senators in the first game of three consecutive games between the two sides.
The rest of Winnipeg's schedule against the Senators are two-game sets, aside from a May 3 meeting in Ottawa.
Dating back to 2017, Winnipeg is 7-1-1 in their past nine games against Ottawa. Winnipeg has outscored Ottawa 37-24 in the past nine meetings.
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