On Monday evening, the Winnipeg Jets traded defensemen Jacob Trouba to the New York Rangers in exchange for defensemen Neal Pionk and the 20th overall selection in this year’s draft.
It would have been easy for me to evaluate the trade when it happened, but that didn’t make a lot of sense to me. I needed to see what would happen with that pick on Friday night. Now, we know. The Winnipeg Jets selected defensemen Ville Heinola with the 20th overall pick.
There are a lot of things to unpack with this trade, so let’s just start with Trouba.
There was always a lot of discussion that Jacob Trouba did not want to live in Winnipeg. He definitely has asked for a trade at least twice in the past. The first time was a few years ago amid speculation that he was not comfortable playing either on the left side or deep in the lineup. The second time was this spring. I’ve always thought it is unfair to assume that players are unwilling to be sold on a team just because of geography. If Trouba didn’t want to play in the city of Winnipeg, he would have been much more aggressive with his “get me out of here” attitude. To me, Trouba hating Winnipeg or the Jets was never, ever the case.
The issue, as we now know, was something deeper for Trouba. In an interview with Ken Wiebe of the Winnipeg Sun, Trouba explained that his desire to be moved stemmed from his personal life. In the fall, Trouba’s fiancée Kelly will begin her residency on the road to becoming a doctor. Simply put, it was a greater opportunity for her outside of Winnipeg, and it became important for Jacob to help her in that quest because he had the chance to do so. This was never about the Jets. The first trade request was about opportunity, and this time is no different.
The Jets lose an undeniable first pairing defenseman. I don’t need to tell you that is not ideal in the short term.
That said, I am not buying the narrative that the Jets got completely fleeced here. The fact is that the Jets needed to make a move for Trouba. Until we learn what the other offers were (don’t hold your breath on that one), we cannot really weigh them against each other. The only thing we can look at is the assets that the Jets acquired.
The talent is definitely there, but there is undeniable work to be done. Sometimes it is true that you cannot teach a hockey player certain things. There are often offensive defensemen that cannot figure out how to defend properly, or centres that cannot play wing. But more often than not, players with Pionk’s talent can be taught these things.
In terms of possession numbers, it’s not pretty. Pionk carries a career 41.3% Corsi percentage in just 101 games. You don’t really need to look at a heat map to get a better explanation. To sum that up, his defensive heat maps light up in all the wrong areas. I’m sure you get the picture there. However, Pionk does have enough positives offensively that it’s possible to work with him. After all, Pionk is just 23-years old. He has played just 101 games as I mentioned, and keep in mind the Rangers haven’t exactly been setting the world on fire the past couple years. Pionk has good speed, nice hands, and decent vision. Although you may need to shelter him at times, there is plenty of room to improve. I don’t buy the argument, or the twitter consensus among the armchair GMs, that he is ‘bad’.
I believe Pionk was not the focal point of the return for the Jets. Rather, Pionk was an asset that they believe they can develop, but I believe that getting their first round pick back was the focal point. To me, Kevin Cheveldayoff and his scouting staff have a good enough drafting resume that they were confident enough they would get the right player at 20th overall.
There is a lot to like with Ville Heinola. Ranked 18th overall on Puck77’s final draft rankings, Heinola is a mobile defensemen who is very smart at both ends of the ice. An exceptional puck mover, Heinola also cuts down passing lanes very well. Quite often, it’s tough to find a defensemen who can do both while skating efficiently. Although there is admittedly room to grow with his skating; he’s more of a smooth skater than an overly fast one. Heinola also skated very well beside Henri Jokiharju with Team Finland at the World Junior Under 20 Championships this past winter.
Heinola adds to the group of young, talented Finns within the Jets’ organization; Patrik Laine, Kristian Vesalainen, Sami Niku, and perhaps more on the way. The benefit for Jets fans in this scenario is that they can rest easier with first round selections than fans of many other teams can. With the exception of Logan Stanley, all of Kevin Cheveldayoff’s first round picks as GM of the Jets have appeared in the NHL for the team. Even with Stanley, I believe his chance may still be coming.
The Deal As A Whole
It is hard to look at Jacob Trouba for Neal Pionk and Ville Heinola and feel amazing, but the reason for that is the uncertainty. There are no guarantees on Pionk or Heinola, and it is very possible that the Jets come up essentially empty while trading a bonafide first pairing guy. I would err on the side of caution before panicking about this trade for Jets fans. This trade is one of the only trades that Cheveldayoff has made that in his entire tenure that caused panic, or even just reason to believe it wouldn’t somehow work out. It is important for Jets’ fans to have some faith in what Cheveldayoff has done so far, and to believe that if he passed up another deal, there is probably good reason for it.
My final thought on this trade is that I am skeptical. However, there is upside on Pionk, and potential on Heinola. The success of this trade now depends on the development staff of the Winnipeg Jets, and there is a strong enough track record that I just can’t push the panic button on this one.
article referenced from the Winnipeg Sun, written by Ken Wiebe (https://winnipegsun.com/sports/hockey/nhl/winnipeg-jets/personal-decision-for-trouba-jets-werent-the-issue-for-departing-defenceman). statistics obtained from hockey-reference.com, hockeydb.com, quanthockey.com.
featured image photo credit – Josh Tessler