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31 in 31

Top prospects for Winnipeg Jets

Heinola, Samberg, Stanley, Niku could transform defenseman group

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / Staff Writer is providing in-depth prospect analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, the top five prospects for the Winnipeg Jets, according to


[Jets 31 IN 31: Season preview | 3 Questions | Fantasy breakdown | Behind the Numbers]


1. Ville Heinola, D

How acquired: Selected with No. 20 pick in 2019 NHL Draft

Last season: Lukko (FIN): 34 GP, 2-12-14

Growth and development time are needed for the 18-year-old Finland-born defenseman (5-foot-11, 178 pounds), but anticipation already is rising for a player with the potential to quarterback an NHL power play.

Heinola gained experience last season playing against men in Liiga, Finland's top pro league, and his hockey sense is considered elite.

"His escapability factor is high, which is really going to be an asset in the future, and his puck sense is off the charts," Jets assistant general manager Craig Heisinger said. 

The Jets would like to see Heinola improve his skating, but the belief is it will become good enough to raise his offensive skills and instincts to impact level in the NHL.

Projected NHL arrival: 2021-22

Video: Jets draft D Ville Heinola No. 20


2. Dylan Samberg, D

How acquired: Selected with No. 43 pick in 2017 NHL Draft

Last season: University of Minnesota Duluth (NCAA): 39 GP, 7-12-19

After winning an NCAA championship his first two seasons, Samberg has chosen to return to school for a third season.

A strong, mobile skater, Samberg has size (6-3, 190) he's not afraid to use, and the 20-year-old will have an even bigger leadership role this season. The package that awaits the Jets is attractive, especially given Winnipeg's transitioning defenseman group.

Projected NHL arrival: Next season

Video: 31 in 31: Winnipeg Jets 2019-20 season preview


3. Logan Stanley, D

How acquired: Selected with No. 18 pick in 2016 NHL Draft

Last season: Manitoba (AHL): 73 GP, 6-16-22

The Jets have taken a patient approach to Stanley's development. They were happy with the progress the 21-year-old made last season, his first in professional hockey, and believe he will play NHL games this season.

Stanley's size (6-7, 228), range and big shot are reasons for that patience, and now that expectations are rising, he will be more under the microscope.

"He's a big man who can skate and he had a tremendous season in the AHL," Heisinger said. "To play in the NHL as a big man, you have to be in peak condition, not American Hockey League condition or junior condition. It has to be NHL shape."

Projected NHL arrival: Next season


4. Kristian Vesalainen, F

How acquired: Selected with No. 24 pick in 2017 NHL Draft

Last season: Winnipeg (NHL): 5 GP, 0-1-1; Manitoba (AHL): 22 GP, 4-9-13; Jokerit (KHL): 31 GP, 6-11-17

Vesalainen brings size (6-3, 207) and grit, and the Jets believe the experience the 20-year-old gained last season between the NHL, AHL and Kontinental Hockey League helped mature his game. Vesalainen started the season with the Jets, was assigned to Jokerit on Nov. 22, and returned to Manitoba on March 15.

"I think it helped him that he came back to [Manitoba] after the year in the KHL," Heisinger said. "And it helped the team. He's a top-nine forward who can shoot the puck and can contribute in a variety of ways."

Projected NHL arrival: This season


5. Sami Niku, D

How acquired: Selected with No. 198 pick in 2015 NHL Draft

Last season: Winnipeg (NHL): 30 GP, 1-3-4; Manitoba (AHL): 20 GP, 3-9-12

The 22-year-old started the season in the AHL but earned the chance to stay in Winnipeg. After Jan. 1, he spent all but 11 days with the Jets and averaged 14:24 of ice time in 25 games.

The Jets believe what the Finland-born Niku lacks in size (6-1, 176), he makes up for with elite skating and outstanding vision. Niku's hockey sense was a major reason he was named AHL defenseman of the year in 2017-18, his first North American season, when he had 54 points (16 goals, 38 assists) in 76 games.

Projected NHL arrival: This season

Video: WPG@CBJ: Niku gives Jets early lead

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