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Heinola quietly focused on future with Jets

Defenseman, selected with No. 20 pick in 2019 Draft, knows he must improve 'everything' to make NHL

by Scott Billeck / Correspondent

WINNIPEG -- Ville Heinola is a player of few words.

That has to do with the 18-year-old defenseman's English needing some work and being thrust into a new environment with the Winnipeg Jets, who have unofficially been dubbed "Finnipeg" because of their affinity for Finland-born players.

But Heinola, who was selected by the Jets with the No. 20 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, would rather let his play on the ice do the talking for now.

"It was a good week for me," Heinola said during Jets development camp in June. "It was a long time since I had skated last."

Heinola was one of four Finland-born players who took part in the camp, joining forwards Kristian Vesalainen, who Winnipeg selected with the No. 24 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, Henri Nikkanen, who was selected in the fourth round (No. 113) in the 2019 draft, and Joona Luoto, who signed as a free agent June 15.

Although June proved to be a bit of a whirlwind for Heinola (6-foot, 178 pounds), he said he took a lot away from the experience.

"Everything that we're doing on the ice, I tried to learn," he said.

Winnipeg general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said he won't put any undue pressure on Heinola, who had 14 points (two goals, 12 assists) in 34 regular-season games for Lukko in Liiga, Finland's top professional league, and four points (one goal, three assists) in seven playoff games last season.

"We just want him to be him and to play his game," Cheveldayoff said during the 2019 NHL Draft. "He's something that, from a development standpoint because he's played with men, he should be on a good development curve. He's played at a high level already and the experiences that he's gained and shown that he can play in a men's league is certainly something that is of great value.

"He [sustained a knee injury] at the World Juniors. But in talking to our scouts and seeing the video and watching all the different things about him, he has a high, high hockey IQ."

Winnipeg director of player development Jimmy Roy said he wasn't surprised by Heinola's quiet demeanor.

"That's typical of every 18-year-old kid that comes here," Roy said. "But you see on the ice, the way he moves the puck, it's pretty neat."

However, Heinola, who will play with Lukko again this season, still knows what he needs to improve on to make his NHL dream a reality.

"Everything," he said.



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