Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff finally did it: he made a deadline day deal.
The acquisition of Paul Stastny from the Blues came out of almost nowhere as St. Louis was itself in the hunt for a playoff spot when they made the move. But after finding themselves one point out of the wild card following back-to-back shutout losses, GM Doug Armstrong decided it was better to get assets back for the pending UFA rather than lose him for nothing.
The Jets picked up a playmaking centre for the “third line,” which puts him with Patrik Laine and Nik Ehlers. Stastny got two points in his first game against Nashville and he figures to be a key element in their push for the Stanley Cup.
The Jets didn’t have to give up anything risky in the deal. Sure, they moved their first-round pick but it should be a late one, and the NHL lineup is dotted with top picks already. Hilariously, the pick is conditional in that if it ends up in the top three, St. Louis will get Winnipeg’s 2019 pick instead. Not happening.
One prospect was moved in the deal, but he’s still a few years away from being NHL-ready and with a well-stocked cupboard of futures anyway, the Jets can easily deal with that loss. The team matched what was being done in Pittsburgh and Nashville around the deadline, and are still set up for long-term success. It was a big win for Cheveldayoff on deadline day.
Here’s a look at the team from the draft pick/prospect perspective post-trade deadline.
Erik Foley: After missing out on Derick Brassard a couple of days before the deadline, the Jets found another opportunity to pounce on an offensive centre when Stastny became available. On top of Winnipeg’s first-rounder the Blues got Foley, a six-foot left winger who is leading the NCAA’s Providence Friars in scoring. Should Foley not sign with the Blues by August of 2019 and become a free agent, the Blues will get Winnipeg’s 2020 fourth-rounder instead.
With forward prospects such as Kyle Connor and Jack Roslovic graduating to the NHL, and Mason Appleton putting together an impressive rookie season in the AHL, Foley is not a damaging loss for a Jets team in win-now mode. A third-rounder in 2015 — which is proving to be a very successful draft for Winnipeg — Foley has 34 points in 32 games for the third-place Friars in his junior season. Expect him to return to Providence for his senior year before making a call on his NHL future.
DRAFT PICK SITUATION
2018: Round 2, Round 3, Round 5, Round 5 (BOS), Round 6, Round 7
2019: Round 1, Round 2, Round 4, Round 5, Round 6, Round 7
DRAFT PICK OUTLOOK
With five first-round picks made over the past three drafts, and seven of the nine first-rounders selected by GM Kevin Cheveldayoff currently in the NHL lineup, this year’s first was an obvious piece to use in trade to bolster a Cup-contending lineup. But the Jets did well to not have to also move a top prospect in their system, such as 2017 first-rounder Kristian Vesalainen or Logan Stanley, who was the 18th-overall pick in 2016. The cupboard is relatively untouched, and because of that even next year’s first-rounder could be on the table in future deals.
Winnipeg still has 12 selections over the next two drafts, including second-rounders in both 2018 and 2019, which hold enough value on their own to acquire a solid depth piece for next season. Winnipeg is both strong at the NHL level and in the pipeline, so Chelevdayoff has plenty of room to manoeuvre over the summer and into next season to improve the NHL team again.
REASON FOR OPTIMISM
A lot of attention has been paid to Canucks prospect Elias Pettersson, who is putting up an historical season in Sweden’s top league as a 19-year-old. But in Finland, Winnipeg prospect and 18-year-old Kristian Vesalainen, the 24th-overall pick last summer, is quietly putting together a monster season of his own.
Ranked 16th in Liiga scoring and fifth in goals, both tops among U20 players in the league, Vesalainen has taken a huge step from last year, so you’d excuse Jets fans for dreaming about a future line with the combination of Finns Vesalainen and Patrik Laine on the flanks. With such a young collection of forwards already in the NHL lineup, you have to wonder if Vesalainen will join them as early as next season. He’s mentioned it’s a goal for himself in 2018-19, though he still has work to do on the defensive side of the puck.