Before Morgan Rielly was injured, when only Jake Muzzin and TJ Brodie were out (only), Frank Seravalli made this tweet.
Friday morning musing. Trade proposition, given the injuries to both teams and the positional needs: #nhljets Ville Heinola for #leafs Nick Robertson.— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) November 18, 2022
Same age. Similar upside. Similar risk. Same waiver exemption. Similar contracts/cap hits.
Who says no?
And of course Leafs fans said no. The law of conservation of drafted players is a religion in Toronto. But it got me thinking.
My first reaction was, yeah sure, Finnish Rasmus Sandin, that’ll fix it. And then with Rielly out too, and a really moribund trade market (we could get Connor Timmins, yippee!) I thought again. Maybe adding Finnish Sandin is better than just Sandin. I like Heinola, and I’m not surprised the Jets can’t figure out how to get him in the lineup. They have a history of just not playing developing players, often for good reasons, but this case has always seemed like there should be something there.
This is almost entirely familiarity on my part, not cutting edge analysis. I’ve seen Heinola play a lot because he was one pair up the depth chart on the Finnish WJC team ahead of Mikko Kokkonen or Topi Niemelä. He was, in that context, better than them. For those with no interest in random Finns, Heinola has played 11 AHL games this year, while the defence-rich Jets had other options. The Jets are now forward poor, which is likely the impetus for Seravalli’s speculation.
So imagine my surprise when the Jets put Heinola in a game vs the Hurricanes the other night. They told a story to the press about how the ‘Canes are so fast, they wanted some speed on the back end. They only wanted that for 12 minutes at five-on-five, however. In those minutes he had one takeaway, two giveaways, one block and one hit. Which tells us all nothing. The game seemed very much like a showcase for scouts. Here — this guy is alive and can play at the NHL level in some capacity. The Jets won the game being royally outplayed, largely because the Hurricanes had their number three goalie in net. Huh. Sounds familiar.
Is there some kind of deal here for the Leafs? Leaving aside the Robertson aspect, because I realize he looks fun, and has had the occasional good NHL game, and he may have another tonight, but the general feeling towards him is warmer than my own. Forget all that, could Heinola be useful?
He makes a tasty $863,333 on the second last year of an ELC that slid twice. He’s 21, so there’s some growth potential to come to some degree, and he has 26 NHL games played. He’s a lefty, but of course he is, if he shot right, he’d already be traded. He was drafted 20th overall, so you should expect something of the Liljegren/Sandin level to his career — allowing for some really big variation in outcomes at that draft position. He is fast, with the standard skillset of a Finnish defender which often comes with a tendency to too many point shots. But really, he’s played so little in the NHL, it’s impossible to really say how he’d be.
His AHL career, like his Liiga seasons before it, as well as his junior play, doesn’t feature a lot of personal scoring. He’s more of a puck-mover and offensive support defender. Style-wise, he’d be a better fit on the Leafs than the Jets.
At the moment, the Jets are playing Dominic Toninato, a waiver claim in Axel Jonsson-Fjallby and Sam Gagner at forward because that’s their best options. They’re making some kind of deal for some kind of forward with some team. Maye the Leafs can find one they like.