Why the Winnipeg Jets haven't traded Rutger McGroarty yet and what I'm hearing comes next

LAS VEGAS — The Winnipeg Jets didn’t trade Rutger McGroarty during the first round of the NHL Draft on Friday. This was not for a lack of effort.

The Jets worked hard to trade McGroarty and got some bites, particularly in the middle of the first round. According to The Athletic’s Michael Russo, Minnesota offered Winnipeg the 13th pick but changed its tack when Zeev Buium became available, trading up to take the defenceman at 12. It’s entirely possible making the deal with the Wild depended on which player Winnipeg could have drafted at 13.

That wasn’t the Jets’ only bite, either.

The Jets’ draft table was abuzz throughout Round 1, with GM Kevin Cheveldayoff spotted working the phone on several calls during the opening round. The biggest frenzies came during the middle of the first round, but ultimately Winnipeg was not able to pull off a trade.

Cheveldayoff’s non-comment regarding McGroarty just prior to the draft revealed a sense of complexity.

“The Rutger situation here right now … I think for me, there’s a time and a place when I’ll comment on something,” Cheveldayoff said in response to a question from The Athletic. “Rutger is a prospect within our organization and that’s where it’s at right now.”

I believed that a trade was more imminent than not and expected it to come by the end of the first round of the draft. I believe now that the twists and turns of the draft board, Buium included, changed trade winds more than once.

McGroarty’s rights still belong to the Jets. An 11th-hour reconciliation does not appear to be in the cards. A league source shared that, despite the complexities involved in McGroarty’s situation, trade talks took place with multiple teams.

There are differing opinions about McGroarty’s value. He was taken 14th in 2022, which implies a similar value here and now — hence the Wild’s No. 13 pick being in play. There is an argument to be made that McGroarty’s development at Michigan, including his World Junior gold medal, should increase his stature — he’s developed for two years and covered the bet Winnipeg made when it reached for him two years ago. However, there has been some talk that teams see the Jets as painted into a corner and were more inclined to value McGroarty as a late first-round pick.

Both could be true — there are enough rival clubs for a variety of opinions — but I lean toward the more optimistic side of the argument. Cheveldayoff has a long history of pulling rabbits out of hats, from the PL Dubois trade last summer to the Andrew Copp deadline day trade which yielded Morgan Barron and the picks which became Brad Lambert, Elias Salomonsson and Thomas Milic. And despite McGroarty’s desire to play elsewhere, the 20-year-old forward’s on-ice stock is at an all-time high. From the Jets’ perspective, there’s no official deadline — no rule that they have to trade McGroarty for beans if the phones go quiet. The timeline in which Winnipeg does nothing sees McGroarty return to Michigan, continue to excel and re-emerge as a valuable trade piece at the 2025 deadline.

Now, though, the Jets need to pivot or double down in a different direction — perhaps for prospects a year or two into their development as opposed to picks. We discussed Manitoba native Denton Mateychuk in this look at potential McGroarty trade returns. The idea has appeal — Mateychuk was taken two spots before McGroarty in 2022, while David Jiricek is another attractive Blue Jackets defenceman. After the Wild’s clear interest in McGroarty, it’s difficult to ascertain whether they can find another way to make a deal.

Cheveldayoff and his staff planned to meet at their hotel on Friday night to regroup and make plans for Day 2 of the draft. It’s all well and good for McGroarty’s future to occupy the majority of Cheveldayoff’s attention on Day 1. The Jets didn’t have a first-round pick to make. Meanwhile, Winnipeg’s prospect pool has been depleted by trades, with plenty of draft capital shipped out in recent seasons, including the first-round pick it sent Montreal for Sean Monahan earlier this year. This makes the Jets’ work with picks 37, 123, 155, 187 and 219 all the more important on Saturday.

One player whose future in Winnipeg looks brighter today than it did heading into draft weekend? Nikolaj Ehlers.

“Nikolaj Ehlers is a big part of our team. We’re very focused on trying to put the best team on the ice that we possibly can in order to compete for a Stanley Cup,” Cheveldayoff said. “He’s a big part of what we have going forward.”

This is similar to Cheveldayoff’s messaging on Connor Hellebuyck and Mark Scheifele at last year’s draft, back when one or both players were expected to be moved. In those players’ cases, a summer’s worth of communication, wherein Cheveldayoff opened up his playbook and shared his long-term vision, helped bring his stars on board, signing matching extensions. On Friday, Cheveldayoff seemed to show confidence in Ehlers’ spot in Winnipeg’s opening-night lineup, despite trade discussions in the lead-up to the draft.

Cheveldayoff has options: He can move Ehlers now, later this summer or even at the trade deadline. He has a track record of success with similar moves. And he could also surprise all of us by finding a way to keep Ehlers long-term. The runway isn’t infinite — Ehlers is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next summer — but there is no deadline to pick a path until the 2025 trade deadline.

Other juicy items from Cheveldayoff’s draft floor availability: He’d love for Laurent Brossoit to be back but believes Brossoit has played himself into an opportunity (and a raise) that the Jets can’t afford. Winnipeg has been in constant communication with UFAs like Monahan and Brenden Dillon, although the Jets could be in tough to win the market prices for those players. Cheveldayoff reiterated to me that no salary cap safety valve is off the table, whether buyouts or otherwise, and stressed that the Jets are still in a competitive window. The NHL’s first buyout window closes at the end of the weekend, so we should find out soon, while I also wonder if the Jets would move Alex Iafallo if they needed cap space.

For every bit of uncertainty, there is optimism as a counterweight. Cheveldayoff shared that Cole Perfetti is someone who “stands to gain a lot” from the tenure of new head coach Scott Arniel.

“We met with Cole’s group,” Cheveldayoff said. “I know (Arniel) and Cole have had many conversations. Again, Cole’s a guy that stands to gain a lot through my conversations with Arnie and just his thoughts on what his beliefs are and how things and move forward.”

As a restricted free agent, it’s likely that Perfetti’s contract — likely a two-year bridge, with a price to be determined — will get handled later this summer.

Cheveldayoff has more urgent problems to solve. McGroarty’s situation needs to be settled. If Ehlers isn’t being moved, then Cheveldayoff needs to find another route to improve the team. And the Jets’ roster needs help: It’s hard to see the players Winnipeg currently has under contract coming close to the 52 wins and 110 points the Jets earned last season.


Kyle Connor

Mark Scheifele

Gabriel Vilardi

Cole Perfetti*

Vladislav Namestnikov

Nikolaj Ehlers

Nino Niederreiter

Adam Lowry

Mason Appleton

Morgan Barron

David Gustafsson*

Alex Iafallo

Nikita Chibrikov

Brad Lambert

Rasmus Kupari



Josh Morrissey

Dylan DeMelo

Dylan Samberg

Neal Pionk

Nate Schmidt

Ville Heinola*

Logan Stanley*

Elias Salomonsson


Connor Hellebuyck

*Restricted free agents

Winnipeg’s forwards could use an upgrade. Its most productive offensive players don’t always hold their own defensively, while the most responsible defensive players don’t always contribute enough offence. Arniel may have some answers here, whether by blending the lines or working with Dean Chynoweth and Davis Payne to improve Winnipeg’s special teams.

The defence could really use Dillon, or a younger version of the same player type. Josh Morrissey is the standout, the star, and Dylan DeMelo has been a great partner for him, but a playoff-bound Jets team could use a Chris Tanev (but younger), a Mattias Ekholm (but available), or both. We looked at options for Winnipeg on defence here, while covering forward options in this piece.

In the end, the McGroarty trade didn’t materialize. The Jets did not acquire a first-round pick, despite the option being on the table.

“Oh, there’s always a chance,” Cheveldayoff had said earlier Friday. “This is Vegas, I guess. Obviously take a gamble here and there.”

He still has plenty of cards in hand and a lot of work to do with those cards. As Winnipeg gathers for its meetings at the hotel, the Jets have assets, a bit of cap space, a few roster holes and five draft picks to make on Day 2.

(Photo: Richard T Gagnon / Getty Images) 

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