VANCOUVER – Ville Heinola doesn’t know much about Winnipeg, but that’s likely to change soon.
The Winnipeg Jets selected the Finnish defenceman with the 20th overall pick at the NHL draft on Friday.
Heinola spoke with the Jets before the draft and felt good about the meeting, but didn’t have high hopes on Friday.
“I don’t think I expect anything,” he said. “I just come to enjoy and wait until someone wanted to take me.”
It was a dream come true for the 18 year old, who played 34 games with Lukko Rauma in Finland last season, scoring two goals and adding 12 assists. He added a goal and an assist over seven playoff games.
He also helped Finland’s world juniors team secure a gold medal in January.
“I think it’s good because Finnish is now (a) hot thing,” Heinola said of his nation’s recent play on the international stage. “I don’t know what we did right but something we did right.”
The young blue-liner describes himself as a defenceman who “likes to play with the puck and get smart passes and read the game well.”
The Jets will have four more opportunities to add to their prospect pool at this year’s draft, starting with the 51st pick on Saturday.
But Winnipeg came close to missing out on the first round for the second year in a row after general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff dealt his team’s pick to the New York Rangers for centre Kevin Hayes at the trade deadline. The Jets got the pick back earlier this week in a trade that sent defenceman Jacob Trouba to the Rangers.
Winnipeg also parted ways with Hayes, handing his negotiating rights to the Philadelphia Flyers earlier this month in exchange for a fifth-round pick in this year’s draft. Hayes went on to sign a seven-year, US$50-million deal with the Flyers.
While the Jets finished the regular season second in the Central Division with a 47-30-5 record, the team flopped in the playoffs. The eventual Stanley Cup-winning St. Louis Blues disposed of the Jets in six games in the first round.
Last year, the Jets missed out on the draft’s first round after Cheveldayoff gave the pick to the Blues in exchange for Paul Stastny. The centre went on to sign a three-year, $19.5-million deal with the Vegas Golden Knights in free agency.
Winnipeg’s first pick of 2018 was David Gustafsson, taken 60th overall late in the second round. The centre spent last year playing in Sweden and signed an entry-level contract with the Jets earlier this month.