Young European Jets get ice time overseas

Six members of the Winnipeg Jets organization have found temporary hockey homes, thousands of kilometres away from the friendly confines of Bell MTS Place.

With no firm start date set for the 2020-21 NHL season, clubs have been looking for alternatives to allow some of their young foreign players to polish their skills on overseas ponds. The agreements allow them to be recalled to North America in time for training camp and the start of a new campaign, which won’t happen until January, at the earliest.

Here’s a quick look at where Winnipeg’s skaters are and how they’re doing. This list includes only the half-dozen skaters who have already played games with either the Jets and/or Moose, not draft picks who have yet to turn pro and are still with their various European club teams.

D Ville Heinola, 19: Has played six games so far with Lukko Rauma of SM-liiga, otherwise known as the Finnish Elite League, notching four assists. That’s the same team he finished last year with (29 games, seven assists) after making the Jets out of training camp following his 20th-overall selection in the 2019 draft. Heinola had one goal and four helpers in eight games with Winnipeg before he was sent down for further seasoning. He will be given every opportunity to earn a full-time role with the Jets, but could also log big minutes with the Manitoba Moose as part of his development.

Ville Heinola has four assists for Lukko Rauma of the Finnish Elite League. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Ville Heinola has four assists for Lukko Rauma of the Finnish Elite League. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press files)

F David Gustafsson, 20: Off to a terrific start with Tingsryds AIF of the SHL, Sweden’s top men’s league, with two goals and six assists through seven games. The 2018 second-round draft pick is expected to compete for Winnipeg’s fourth-line centre job after making a strong showing in his rookie season, with one goal in 22 NHL games. He also had two goals and five assists in 13 games with the Moose.

F Kristian Vesalainen, 21: Was loaned Wednesday to HPK of SM-liiga. He’s expected to make his debut later this week. The 24th-overall pick in the 2017 draft is coming off his first full season in Winnipeg, dressing for 60 games with the Moose. He had 12 goals and 18 assists. Vesalainen also appeared in five games with the Jets to start the 2018-19 season, recording one assist, before being sent to the Moose and later heading to the KHL for the rest of the year. Vesalainen is expected to compete for a depth spot with the Jets next season, but will likely start the year in the AHL.

D Leon Gawanke, 21: Has been loaned to his hometown team in Berlin with Deutsche Eishockey Liga, but the start of the top German league has been delayed due to COVID-19. Gawanke, selected in the fifth round of the 2017 draft, had four goals and 22 assists in 48 games in his rookie season with the Moose last year. More time on the farm is required.

Mikhail Berdin is 4-3-2 with a 2.64 GAA and .909 save percentage playing with St. Petersburg SKA of the KHL. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Mikhail Berdin is 4-3-2 with a 2.64 GAA and .909 save percentage playing with St. Petersburg SKA of the KHL. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

G Mikhail Berdin, 22: The human highlight reel is up to his usual tricks with St. Petersburg SKA of the KHL. Which is to say he’s throwing bodychecks, taking penalties (two minors, so far) and notching assists (one) in addition to stopping pucks. Berdin is 4-3-2 with a 2.64 GAA and .909 save percentage in nine starts. With Connor Hellebuyck and Laurent Brossoit the one-two punch in goal with the Jets, Berdin is destined for another season with the Moose, where he went 20-21-1 with a 2.89 GAA and .910 save percentage in 42 games last year.

F Joona Luoto, 23: Has two goals and two assists in eight games with HIFK Helsinki of the SM-liiga. Signed as a free agent with Winnipeg in the summer of 2019 and had no points in 16 games with the Jets last year, and four assists in 18 games with the Moose. Factors in as a depth option going forward.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

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