Kyle Connor trade rumours began last week, and this isn’t the first time the media rumoured the Winnipeg Jets trading a star forward.
During the summer, Nikolaj Ehlers was the subject of trade rumours between the Jets and Buffalo Sabres. A deal involving Ehlers heading to the Sabres and defenceman Rasmus Ristolainen joining the Jets was commonly discussed on social media.
It made sense; the Jets use one of their five key forwards (Connor, Ehlers, Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine) as trade bait to boost their depleted back end. The recent Connor rumours seem to imply the Jets should part ways with a 20-plus goal scorer to fix their defensive woes — I strongly disagree.
Jets Lack Forward Depth
Aside from the top five forwards mentioned above, the Jets’ pool of offensive players isn’t as deep as it once was. Veteran forwards Bryan Little and Mathieu Perreault aren’t getting any younger and have continuously been sidelined with injuries. The Jets should be moving on from the two vets in the near future, leaving more holes to fill on offence.
Most top prospects have already made the jump to the NHL, with Jansen Harkins and Mason Appleton now regulars in the Jets’ lineup. Kristian Vesalainen is the one forward prospect the team has to be hoping makes the jump next season, but besides him, it’s slim pickings from their American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate Manitoba Moose, that sit in last place in the AHL Central Division standings.
Andrew Copp and Adam Lowry are the two other forwards that Jets’ management should have in their long-term plans. Both bring a physical and defensive-styled game to the team, which is suitable for their bottom-six lines and penalty kill units. However, with injuries and the lack of depth this season, Copp has been asked to do a lot more. In his defence, he’s shown he’s capable of playing top-six minutes if needed.
That leaves us with Jack Roslovic. He flashes potential, but never seems to be able to staple himself into the top-six forward group. This, combined with recent trade rumours and him allegedly being unhappy with his role here last season, makes me think he won’t be a long-term option.
This leaves us with the top five forwards, Copp, Lowry, Appleton and Harkins as nine players the Jets will rely on offensively in the coming years. The Jets have at least three forward spots to fill via the draft or trade.
This is one reason the team can’t move one of their key forwards, but if you need more convincing, here’s another.
Jets Have Promising Young Defence Corps
If knowing the Jets lack forward depth still has you thinking they need to prioritize defence, think again. The Jets are in a playoff race right now, but it’s unlikely they compete for a Stanley Cup this season, meaning they can focus on building a contender without rushing to make trades this season.
However, I do believe the team needs to add another top-four defenceman at the trade deadline or during the offseason. This can happen with the Jets keeping their first-round pick and without trading away a forward like Connor. The Jets can instead get creative with other draft picks and a player like Roslovic.
The defence may be loosely held together right now, but the future is bright for the Jets’ blue line. Dylan Samberg, Ville Heinola and Declan Chisholm are three prospects with serious potential.
Samberg is in his third season with the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs in the National College Hockey Conference. He played in 39 games last season and scored 19 points (7 goals, 12 assists), while maintaining an impressive plus/minus of plus-22. This season, he has played 22 games, tallying 15 assists and a plus/minus of plus-10. He has been a key player in the Bulldogs’ back-to-back championships, and he will look to help the team complete a three-peat this season.
Heinola spent some time in the NHL this season but couldn’t cement himself a spot in the starting lineup. However, he showed his offensive ability in his eight games with the Jets, putting up five points (1 goal, 4 assists). He played three games for the Moose before heading back to play in Europe for the rest of the season. Although it’s been a small sample size in the NHL, the Jets have to be excited for his potential from watching him play in Europe and at the World Juniors.
Lastly, Chisholm is playing for the Peterborough Petes of the OHL for a third-straight season. He’s already set a career high in points this season with 61 (11 goals, 50 assists) in 53 games. He has shown his offence as a strength throughout his time in the OHL, but he’s maintaining a plus/minus of plus-seven this season to show he can be a shutdown defender as well.
The Jets have these three prospects to look forward to, while they also try to develop Sami Niku and Tucker Poolman into NHL regulars. The Jets will have options to fill the voids on defence behind Josh Morrissey and Neal Pionk.
Prioritize Connor and Other Top Forwards
Between the lack of offensive depth and the upcoming talent on defence, the Jets would instantly regret trading away a player like Connor or Ehlers. Trading one of them may solve a problem this season, but in the long run, the problem can be fixed within.
Related: Rankings NHL Teams By Defensemen
The Jets will have a vastly improved defence within the next couple years, so it’s the future of the offence Jets management needs to think about when it comes to trade talks.
Connor, Ehlers, Wheeler, Laine and Scheifele often score 20-plus goals a season, which isn’t easy to replace. The Jets can build defence within and should find forward help to complement their stars.
Also, after Connor’s goal between his legs against the San Jose Sharks, the Jets have to know talent like his doesn’t grow on trees.