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Jets acquire forward Tlusty, place Wheeler on IR

by Patrick Williams

WINNIPEG -- The Winnipeg Jets' bid to reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2007 received another boost Wednesday.

The Jets acquired 26-year-old left wing Jiri Tlusty from the Carolina Hurricanes for a third-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft and a conditional 2015 sixth-round pick. That pick would become a fifth-round choice in 2015 if the Jets reach the playoffs this season.

Tlusty has 13 goals and 10 assists in 52 games this season. Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said he expects he'll be available when the Jets host the St. Louis Blues on Thursday.

It's the second trade in two weeks for Cheveldayoff. He acquired defenseman Tyler Myers and right wing Drew Stafford, a 2015 first-round pick, and two prospects from the Buffalo Sabres on Feb. 11 for left wing Evander Kane and defenseman Zach Bogosian.

With 73 points, Winnipeg holds the first wild card in the Western Conference and has a three-point lead on the second wild card, the Calgary Flames. Winnipeg is trying to fend off Calgary, the Minnesota Wild (69) and the San Jose Sharks (68). The Jets are within four points of the Chicago Blackhawks for third place in the Central Division. Eight of the Jets' final 20 games are against division opponents, and they have five games remaining against Pacific Division teams.

"The [dressing] room has been sending me the message," Cheveldayoff said Wednesday. "[The trade] is a message to the room that we're all-in here. We're going to keep working [until the NHL Trade Deadline on March 2 at 3 p.m. ET]."

The only trip to the playoffs for the Jets franchise came eight years ago, when it was based in Atlanta. The Thrashers won the Southeast Division but were swept by the New York Rangers in the first round.

Moving picks for a rental player is a departure from Cheveldayoff's usual methods. At times since taking the position in June 2011, Cheveldayoff has received criticism for what some have considered to be an overly conservative approach and his strict adherence to the organization's draft-and-develop mandate.

Cheveldayoff has shrugged off such critiques and rebuilt the organization's supply of prospects. Amid the pressure of pursuing a playoff spot, he was mindful of the price necessary to add Tlusty, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent this summer.

"A third-round pick is a high price to pay at this time of year," Cheveldayoff said. "It's certainly something that we don't take lightly."

Tlusty's addition should help reinforce a group of forwards that has been beset by injuries. Left wing Mathieu Perreault is out until nearly the end of the regular season because of a lower-body injury. The Jets also placed right wing Blake Wheeler (lower body) on injured reserve Wednesday.

Tlusty could slot into Winnipeg's second line with Stafford and center Mark Scheifele and replace Dustin Byfuglien at left wing. Doing so would enable Jets coach Paul Maurice to move Byfuglien back to his natural position of defenseman.

Byfuglien is capable of playing 25 minutes per game as a defenseman. He began the season as a forward before shifting in December when the Jets were hit with injuries on defense. In recent weeks, Byfuglien has shuttled between the two positions to fill vacancies as necessary.

Defenseman Ben Chiarot (hand) is out until April after having surgery Sunday.

Cheveldayoff said the recent injuries did not spur him to acquire Tlusty.

Jiri Tlusty
Center - WPG
GOALS: 13 | ASST: 10 | PTS: 23
SOG: 97 | +/-: -17
"At this time of the year, the [NHL Trade Deadline] is what motivates you, not necessarily what short-term things stand in front of you," Cheveldayoff said. "We were in a mode to see what was out there to help our [team], irrespective of [injuries].

"These kinds of conversations evolve over a long period of time, more in generalities than specifics. Nothing really comes to the forefront until you get really serious."

Tlusty has some ties to Winnipeg: He played for Maurice with Carolina and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Tlusty joins defenseman Jay Harrison as the second player with ties to Maurice in Carolina and Toronto to move to the Jets this season via trade.

"The conversations that I have with Paul are very valuable," Cheveldayoff said. "When you're making a trade of this magnitude, when you're moving assets from the organization, I want my coach to feel comfortable with it."

The organization's work at the draft table has enabled it to have more flexibility with changes to the NHL roster. The Jets' pool of prospects features several forwards, including 2014 first-round pick Niklolaj Ehlers, Nic Petan, Joel Armia and Brendan Lemieux, defenseman Josh Morrissey, and goaltenders Connor Hellebuyck and Eric Comrie.

A number of those players are expected to turn pro next season. Cheveldayoff said he envisions them as future key pieces for his roster, capable of offsetting picks lost via trade.

"From our draft-and-develop model, that is hopefully the next phase that we will be entering into," Cheveldayoff said.

Cheveldayoff also did not downplay the idea he could add another player before the deadline.

"I'd rather under-promise and over-deliver," Cheveldayoff said.

But he did make one promise.

"We will be active on the phones up until the chiming of the deadline," he said.

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