It was a golden opportunity for Ville Heinola to potentially make an impact, starting the night on the top pairing with Josh Morrissey with a couple of Winnipeg Jets regulars missing in action.
Unfortunately, the 20-year-old had a rough start to the night, making an errant drop-pass in the neutral zone that turned into a Nils Hoglander breakaway goal barely three minutes into the game. While he wasn’t the primary culprit on the Canucks second goal a few minutes later, he was on the ice as well.
That prompted Jets coach Paul Maurice to make a switch, moving Dylan DeMelo up with Morrissey and putting Heinola down with Derek Forbort.
“He was fine. Playing his off-side is a challenge for any defenceman. He’s done it before and it’s not uncomfortable. That goal, just a bad turn to that side is different than a turn to the other side. Ville’s fine, he’s a good young player that’s going to keep getting better as he gets more experience and more time in the game,” Maurice said of Heinola.
Maurice has talked of an open audition between Heinola, fellow rookie Logan Stanley and Jordie Benn to see who might slot in. On Monday, all three were in the lineup together for the first time this season.
“The advantage is that they get to show what they can do against the same team. Sometimes you walk away and say ‘that guy was great tonight’ but it won’t translate necessarily to a different style of game,” Maurice said prior to puck drop.
Stanley and Benn were together on the third pair and remained intact the whole game. It’s worth noting that both Benn and Heinola typically play the left-side, but were shifted to the right-side. Stanley definitely stood out with plenty of aggressive play, smart reads and timely pinches.
“Well I thought he was really good. I liked his last game, too. He had the turnover at the end and then that’s kind of what you’re left leaving the rink with. But his body of work, the physicality in his game, he can make plays and he can move the puck. He made a great seam pass there in the third period, hard and on the tape. I like where he’s headed,” said Maurice.
The openings and shuffling were created by the fact both Neal Pionk and Tucker Poolman were unavailable due to minor injuries. Pionk has now missed two straight contests.
“I list them as more maintenance than anything else,” Maurice said, adding both could have played if the game carried some higher stakes.
“Once these things get healed up, I’ll tell you what they are, so you know what I’m talking about. These are minor things, that if you clean (them) up right away, you never have to talk about them again. And then if you don’t, you’re going ‘why didn’t you clean those things up there?’ All injuries can get big. These things aren’t. Both Pionk and Poolman came to the rink (Monday) with the idea that they were playing,” he said.
“I got a really, really high threshold on how well they need to be feeling to get into the lineup tonight. It was close to that for both, but I just said ‘you’re not playing tonight.’ That’s a coach’s decision and it’s all about health.”
HELLEBUYCK GETS NIGHT OFF
Connor Hellebuyck was also held out as a precaution, not even dressing as the backup to Laurent Brossoit. That role fell to Eric Comrie, the No. 3 goaltender in the system.
Hellebuyck appeared to injure his hand late in the third period of Saturday’s 4-2 loss to Ottawa but finished the game. He didn’t skate during Sunday’s optional practice, but Maurice insists there are no concerns and he’s expected to start tonight’s rematch against the Canucks.
Hellebuyck and Brossoit might split Friday’s season finale against Toronto.
AN OLD FRIEND CHECKS IN
The Jets still have a fan in Patrik Laine. Despite being traded by Winnipeg in mid-January, the 23-year-old Finnish sniper told reporters Monday he’ll be cheering for his old teammates in the playoffs.
“Been there for four-and-a-half years. Obviously paying attention to what my buddies are doing. A lot of my friends had good years over there so obviously happy for them. I have no hard feelings. It’s the tough side of the business. It’s not any of the players fault that it happened. So definitely rooting for those guys. It’s fun to watch how they’re doing,” Laine said.
Laine had a dazzling debut with Winnipeg this year, scoring twice — including the overtime winner — and adding an assist in an opening-night victory over Calgary. But then came an injury and the subsequent trade to Columbus, along with Jack Roslovic, in exchange for Pierre-Luc Dubois.
Laine had just 10 goals and 11 assists in 45 games for the Blue Jackets, who finished last in the Central Division with a 18-26-12 record. Despite a rocky first few months with the new club which included a high-profile benching, Laine said he’s eager for his future in Columbus. He’ll be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights this summer.
“I love it here. I want to stay here for sure,” he said. Laine was asked if that had anything to do with the fact fiery coach John Tortorella won’t return next season.
“It’s not the system’s fault. It’s just my fault. I don’t think it matters who is behind the bench, I still have to go out there and do what I do, and I couldn’t do that this year. I’ll do that next year,” he said.
Roslovic had 12 goals and 22 assists in 48 games with his hometown Blue Jackets. Dubois has just eight goals and 12 assists through 39 game with the Jets and he continues to try and find his footing with his new team.
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