Problems aplenty for Jets

SAN JOSE — There’s rarely a dull moment around the Winnipeg Jets this season, it seems. That was certainly the case Thursday, as a flurry of roster changes, injuries and developments created even more turmoil for a team that’s already faced plenty this season as they try to get their game back on track.

Veteran centre Mark Letestu — who signed a free-agent deal last summer — is likely done for the season after being diagnosed with myocarditis, which is swelling of the heart caused by a virus. The 34-year-old played the first seven games of the season before going on the injured list with what was described as an upper-body ailment.

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<p>Winnipeg Jets’ Mark Letestu, right, played the first seven games of the season before being diagnosed with myocarditis, a swelling of the heart caused by a virus.</p>
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PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Winnipeg Jets’ Mark Letestu, right, played the first seven games of the season before being diagnosed with myocarditis, a swelling of the heart caused by a virus.

“He’s shut down for six months. Here’s the positive, because it can be a really tricky situation: he’s going to be fine. They have full faith he’s going to be back to complete health. But he is shut down, with the exception of very light exercise, for six months,” Jets head coach Paul Maurice said following his team’s practice at SAP Center.

Letestu, who was making US$700,000 on a one-year, two-way deal, will be placed on long-term injured reserve.

The Jets are also dealing with injuries to Patrik Laine and Bryan Little. Both forwards began practice on Thursday as full participants, but left early. In Laine’s case, he’s been ruled out for tonight’s game against the San Jose Sharks.

“He’s not going. He’s not ready,” Maurice said of Laine, who missed Tuesday’s 7-4 loss in Anaheim, which dropped Winnipeg’s record to 6-7-0. Laine — with three goals and 10 assists in 12 games — came out to test the injury, but “didn’t feel like he could play.”

As for Little, it’s not related to the concussion that kept him out of the lineup for the first nine games. He has two goals and two assists in four games.

“Just couldn’t loosen up during the practice. We’ll take look at it (today),” Maurice said.

Winnipeg is already without Adam Lowry — who is serving the second game of a two-game suspension — and Mason Appleton, who broke a foot bone last weekend in Regina while throwing a football around with teammates.

As a result, the short-handed Jets are expected to recall at least one forward from the Manitoba Moose, their AHL affiliate. Logan Shaw is already up with the big club, making his debut against the Ducks. The Jets may also be forced to go with just 11 forwards and seven defencemen again, as they did against Anaheim.

San Jose is coming off three straight losses, all on the road, to drop to 4-8-1 on the year.

“That’s a pretty veteran team that’s in a tough grinder. They’ll be wired. We’ll be grumpy, so will they,” Maurice said. 

On the blue line, 18-year-old defenceman Ville Heinola’s stint with the Jets is over, at least for now. The rookie was sent down to the Moose on Thursday. He’s played eight games, with a goal and four assists, but has also been a healthy scratch for five contests.

“My goodness. Just a really good capacity to learn and get better. Parts of his game are just really advanced. He can do some things with the puck, he can read the play well. And parts of it are 18. But boy, we’ve got a good one there,” Maurice said of Heinola, who was picked 20th overall in last summer’s draft.

Heinola could be an option to return to the Jets at some point, although two more NHL games would burn the first year of his three-year entry-level contract. He could also opt to return to Finland this season.

“There’s a lot of options there, in that regard. There’s nothing etched in stone either way. Being a first-round draft pick, there’s things that are afforded to him that aren’t afforded to other players with respect to different options,” Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said. 

Although Heinola has shown he can compete at this level, Cheveldayoff said the decision was made with long-term interests in mind.

“The bigger factor is like anything, when you get a player that has talent and has abilities, and you want them to develop, you want them to develop into what they’re going to be, not what they can play at right now. I’m sure there’s some nights he would be high up in the lineup, and there’d be some nights where he wouldn’t have the opportunity to play those minutes and not the opportunity to play the power play, all of the things we see him being,” Cheveldayoff said.

“So he’s 18. Like I say, nothing’s etched in stone. It’s something we’re doing here today and something we’ll continue to discuss.”

Heinola’s departure comes after the Jets recently picked up defencemen Carl Dahlstrom and Luca Sbisa on waivers, and with Nathan Beaulieu closing in on a return after being injured during the final pre-season game in Minnesota.

Beaulieu shed his non-contact jersey Thursday, but isn’t sure if he’ll make his season debut tonight against the Sharks or Saturday versus the Vegas Golden Knights.

“The last month has not been easy. There’s no good time to get hurt, but the beginning of the season is probably one of the worst. The guys are getting up to speed and the first 10 games you’re just trying to get under your belt. Missing that is obviously difficult. So when I get back in there, when I’m ready, I’ll just try to take it one shift at a time and just be smart with it,” Beaulieu said following the skate.

“It was definitely special to get out there with the guys. I’ve been craving it for a while now. Taking that yellow jersey off today was like Christmas for me.”

Connor Hellebuyck will get the start between the pipes against San Jose after being pulled midway through the Anaheim loss. Backup goaltender Laurent Brossoit is expected to play the following night in Vegas.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

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