Ranking the Winnipeg Jets’ top 10 trade assets: Which ones could be in play?

The Winnipeg Jets have earned the right to go shopping at the trade deadline. Kevin Cheveldayoff has ensured that the Jets are unique among contenders in terms of cap space: $2.7 million now, or close to $5 million by deadline day.

Fans are daydreaming about upgrades (and rightfully so).

We covered rental targets like Sean Monahan, Elias Lindholm and Chris Tanev. We’ve discussed ambitious swings at players with term left on their contracts.

What we haven’t discussed is the cost.

Jets fans know how this game works. Along with clear wins like acquiring Nino Niederreiter for a second-round pick or Vladislav Namestnikov for a fourth, Cheveldayoff isn’t shy about spending major assets for a marquee piece. Winnipeg paid a first-round pick and promising prospect Erik Foley to St. Louis for Paul Stastny in 2018. The Jets sent another first-round pick, sparkplug Brendan Lemieux and a conditional fourth-round pick to the New York Rangers for Kevin Hayes in 2019.

What does Winnipeg have to go shopping with this year? Today, we evaluate the Jets’ prime trade assets and how likely they are to be moved before the March 8 deadline.

1. Rutger McGroarty, LW, 19 (University of Michigan) 

Status: Untouchable

Stats: 9 goals, 22 assists, 31 points in 17 NCAA games

Storyline: Once upon a time, McGroarty was seen as a great bet to be a solid NHL player. McGroarty’s leadership at all levels, recently demonstrated by his captaincy of Team USA’s gold medal-winning world juniors team, was celebrated. He was a character kid who played the game the right way and would probably do enough things right to earn a bottom-six NHL job.

Then McGroarty scored at a point-per-game pace for the University of Michigan as an 18-year-old freshman, playing with Adam Fantilli and Gavin Brindley on one of the most effective lines in college hockey.

This left critics without a lot to talk about. Maybe Fantilli and Brindley were carrying him?

Now 19, McGroarty has put an end to that line of thinking altogether, scoring 31 points in 17 games, including back-to-back four-point nights against Michigan State that earned him Big Ten Player of the Week honours on Jan. 23.

He’s a player that opposing teams will ask about. McGroarty’s hockey sense is outstanding for his competition level. His shot is a weapon, his competitiveness is unquestionable and the way he returned from a punctured lung and cracked rib to his current level of play has turned plenty of heads. He has become Winnipeg’s top prospect and its most untouchable asset. I don’t expect the Jets to trade him or even to entertain the thought; in fact, the only question left to ask is whether McGroarty will turn pro this season or return to college for his junior year.

McGroarty is where I think the cut-off for “untouchable” ends.

2. Elias Salomonsson, D, 19 (Skellefteå AIK)

Status: Almost untouchable

Stats: 1 goal, 5 assists, six points in 19 SHL games

Storyline: Salomonsson is on track to cover the bet and then some for a player taken 55th in 2022. He turned a lot of heads as a contributing member of a deep Skellefteå AIK team at 18, impressed everyone at Jets camp this September, and has taken another step forward in the SHL at 19 this season.

He’s been so good that one of his SHL coaches, Pierre Johnson, told Scott Wheeler of The Athletic that “he went from average to like f—ing dominant” last season and that he’s maintained that level this year.

I get the sense that the Jets are high on Salomonsson’s promise. It’s difficult for me to imagine a world in which he’s traded. (At least as far as publicly available rumours go, there is no Erik Karlsson or Mark Stone meant to be available at this year’s deadline.) I do think Salomonsson would be an obvious player for other teams to inquire about if the Jets target a player worthy of a blockbuster trade.

Despite that caveat, I fully expect that Salomonsson is part of the Jets’ long-term plans.

3. Brad Lambert, C/RW, 20 (Manitoba Moose)

Status: Available if the Jets’ heads spin

Stats: 12 goals, 13 assists, 25 points in 30 AHL games

Storyline: Lambert’s mere presence on the Jets’ list of top prospects can be attributed to Winnipeg’s work at the trade deadline. The Jets took him with the first-round pick they got in the Andrew Copp trade — a conditional second-round pick that became a first when the Rangers reached the Eastern Conference final.

I’m not saying that this makes Lambert “found money,” so to speak, given the way he’s stepping forward as an AHL impact player this season. His speed is a weapon, his puck skills are high-end and his sheer hunger to produce seems unmatched. Winnipeg is in no hurry to walk away from that but, if you’re looking for a player who is good enough to package for a particularly high-end NHL player who could also theoretically be available, I think Lambert is your starting point.

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Colby Barlow was the Jets’ first-round pick in 2023 and is having a strong season in the OHL. (Jason Kempin / Getty Images)

4. Colby Barlow, LW, 18 (Owen Sound Attack)

Status: Available if the Jets’ heads spin

Stats: 18 goals, 9 assists, 27 points in 26 OHL games

Storyline: Barlow’s season was interrupted by injury and he missed a shot at playing for Canada at the world juniors. Perhaps bolstered by the frustration, Barlow has scored nine goals and four assists in 12 games since returning to the OHL. His one-timer is patently ridiculous by OHL standards, conveying a Patrik Laine-type ability to score from a standstill, but he also drives the net to score from the dirty areas close to goal.

This is a player Winnipeg is thrilled to have in its pipeline. To me, Barlow (or Lambert) plus a first-round pick would have to net a high-end centre on a great contract for it to make sense. Don’t throw your tomatoes at me for including them as possibilities: I’m thinking of blockbusters like Stone to Vegas, wherein the Golden Knights gave up the highly touted prospect Erik Brannstrom as the centrepiece of their package. Prospects as good as Barlow and Lambert do get moved.

5. First-round pick

Status: Available (although probably begrudgingly)

Storyline: I suspect Winnipeg would prefer to hold on to its first-round pick while preferring to use second-round picks as currency. You don’t always get what you want — particularly if you’re shopping in a quality aisle — but Winnipeg has picked up great fits acquired for picks outside the first round. The Jets have acquired all of Niederreiter, Namesntikov, Brenden Dillon, Dylan DeMelo, Nate Schmidt and Mason Appleton for less than the cost of a first-round pick and, while there is a wide range of impacts, all of those players play substantial minutes on Winnipeg’s high-end NHL team.

If Winnipeg finds a similarly important fit for a price below a first-round pick, Jets fans will be thrilled.

6. Nikita Chibrikov, RW, 20 (Manitoba Moose)

Status: Available (although probably begrudgingly)

Stats: 13 goals, 16 assists, 29 points in 35 AHL games

Storyline: Manitoba’s leading scorer is smaller and was drafted later than the young men ranked higher on this list. That said, Chibrikov’s pro-ready game at Jets camp left me thinking he has a non-zero chance of being more impactful than at least a couple of them. Like Lambert, he’s played professional hockey against men for several years. Chibrikov’s shot is a weapon and his willingness to take hits to make plays makes him useful despite his youth. I suspect he’s flying under the radar of public perception and, even though NHL teams are very good at knowing their rivals’ AHL lineups, I wonder if Chibrikov’s trade value is lower than fitting for someone with his level of potential.

7. Ville Heinola, LHD, 22 (Manitoba Moose) 

Status: Available (although probably begrudgingly)

Stats: 1 goal, 2 assists, 3 points in 5 AHL games

Storyline: After all of this development time, all of the trips to the AHL and back, I suspect Winnipeg wants to see what Heinola can do in the NHL. Heinola loses his waivers exemption at the end of this season and, if he earned a roster spot at Jets camp, as Bowness told me after a recent practice, then it’s easy to imagine him earning that spot all over again next year.

Would the Jets include him in a deal if a rival club insisted? I don’t see why not. But I think they’re finally ready to reap the rewards of all their patience with him.

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2021 first-round pick Chaz Lucius is injured for the fourth straight season. (Marissa Baecker / Getty Images)

8. Chaz Lucius, C, 20 (Manitoba Moose)

Status: Injured

Stats: 2 goals, 11 assists, 13 points in 17 AHL games

Storyline: Lucius is having season-ending ankle surgery. This is the fourth straight season Lucius will finish on the sidelines. He’s only 20 and he’s a creative, intelligent offensive player with plenty of upside. However, it’s hard to believe in him reaching that upside with injuries robbing him of so much developmental time. It’s also difficult to imagine him carrying a ton of trade value at this moment.

9. Second-round pick

Status: Available

No stats, no storyline. I think Montreal’s second-round pick in 2024, which the Jets acquired as part of the PL Dubois trade, is very much in play. So is the Jets’ own second-round pick in 2025 and all of their second-round picks beyond that.

10. Logan Stanley, D, 25 (Winnipeg Jets)

Status: Available

Stats: 0 goals, 0 assists, 0 points in 7 NHL games

Storyline: Stanley made it clear last season that he’d rather be traded than be a consistent healthy scratch. He’s only gotten into seven games so far this season. This, while admittedly more than Declan Chisholm’s two games or Heinola’s injury-impacted goose egg, leaves Stanley on the outside looking in at a time in his career I’m sure he’d prefer to play bigger minutes.

I think the Jets would enjoy having the big, strong Stanley as added depth heading into the playoffs. Winnipeg protected him in the Seattle expansion draft, implying fear that he’d be picked and suggesting he may have some trade value, but he doesn’t play much now. It’s hard to imagine his value being high. He’s under contract and scheduled to be under team control until at least this summer, when he has arbitration rights as a restricted free agent.

(Photos of Brad Lambert, Nikita Chibrikov and Ville Heinola: James Carey Lauder / USA Today, Jason Franson / The Canadian Press via AP and Terrence Lee / USA Today)

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