VANCOUVER, British Columbia - For the third time in four years the Winnipeg Jets have drafted a player from Finland with a first round pick.
The Jets selected Finnish defenceman Ville Heinola 20th overall in the first round of the 2019 NHL Draft on Friday night, joining Patrik Laine (2nd overall, 2016) and Kristian Vesalainen (24th overall, 2017) on the list of first round Finns.
"I think I'm a defenceman who likes to play with the puck, give smart passes and read the game well." said Heinola.
Video: DRAFT | Ville Heinola
The 18-year-old Heinola is a left-handed shot, but has also played on his off side with Lukko in the Finnish Liiga last season. Part of the reason the Jets were high on him is how he handled himself playing against men in Finland's top league in 2018-19.
"We just want him to be him. We want him to play his game," said Jets General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff.
"From a development standpoint obviously because he's played with men he should be on a good development curve."
Heinola ends up being drafted in the exact same building where he had one of the biggest moments of his young hockey career. The 18-year-old was part of Finland's golden year in the international calendar, winning the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship, besting the United States in early January at Rogers Arena.
"I think it's good because Finnish hockey is the hot thing," said Heinola.
"Like many gold medals and like this year under-20s and men's (World Championship). I don't know what we do right but there is something we are doing right."
Video: Jets draft D Ville Heinola No. 20
While his hockey IQ is one of his strengths, his skating and size have been brought up as negatives in some of the scouting reports out there. Cheveldayoff is not concerned about either one of those issues.
"If you look at him he's right around six feet tall maybe just a shade under if not six foot," said Cheveldayoff.
"But he's not a small, small guy. He's got a good stocky build to him and again he has played with men."
As for his arrival date in the National Hockey League, Heinola is under contract with club team Lukko. He says he patterns his game after fellow Finnish defenceman Miro Heiskanen who just finished his first NHL season with the Dallas Stars.
And while he doesn't know much about the city of Winnipeg, Heinola is well aware that Vesalainen, Sami Niku and Patrik Laine are part of the Jets organization.
Heinola smiled when talking about the Jets sniper - and while it's strange that a defenceman is looking up to a forward, it shouldn't shock anyone considering Laine's popularity in his home country.
"I always look at the way he shoot the puck so hard and scores goals," smiled Heinola.
"When he was like my age he was really good in international games and dominating league of Finland. That's awesome."
Heinola will be heading to Winnipeg for development camp which begins next Monday at the Bell MTS Iceplex.