On Wednesday, the Winnipeg Jets announced the signing of pending unrestricted free agent defenceman Dylan DeMelo to a four-year, $12 million contract, carrying a $4 million annual average value.
This move, following the Jets’ decision to draft centreman Cole Perfetti Tuesday evening, is certainly a significant step in the right direction for General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff. DeMelo, 27, a strong, shutdown defender, who at times was paired atop Winnipeg’s top unit, providing some comfort to the offensive defenders serving as his various partners during the final month of the COVID-19 shortened 2019-20 season.
“Obviously, there was a need on the right hand side, they picked me up,” DeMelo said Wednesday. “I thought I fit in well with the guys, with the system, with the organization as a whole – obviously not a whole lot of time being there, but it didn’t take me very long to get used to everything and to get acclimated. The fit just felt really good and when we lost, I just felt that Winnipeg was definitely my top choice and I was really hoping something could be worked out here. I’m really happy that it did.”
The 6-foot-1, 195-pound blueliner was acquired on February 18 from Ottawa, in exchange for a 2020 third-round selection that has since become Finnish netminder Levi Merilainen, taken 71st overall Wednesday. With DeMelo signing for four more seasons in Winnipeg paired with his strong defensive play, it’s safe to say the Jets very well may be the early winners on that deal.
“I was given an amazing role and great responsibility of playing Top-4 minutes, a PK role and against other teams’ top lines,” he said. “It was something that I did in Ottawa and something that I feel I’m capable of doing. The fit is just really good in Winnipeg. I felt really confident in my role there and with the group of guys, it’s a good team and we’re going to be a good team for a long time. I couldn’t be happier to be back in the fold.”
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With just Josh Morrissey, Neal Pionk and Tucker Poolman under contract (of the club’s 2019-20 regulars), the back-end was looking rather thin, even from the viewpoint of a team that had lost Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers, Ben Chiarot and Joe Morrow during the 2019 offseason. DeMelo’s signing adds some meat to the defence in front of Vezina Trophy-winning netminder Connor Hellebuyck.
“If there’s a blunder or mistake, we’re not worried about him not stopping the puck. He’s a gamer, he competes hard and when you have a guy that doesn’t quit on pucks and works in practice, plays as consistent and as well as he does, it’s very contagious for the whole team and especially the defensive crew.
We’re very confident with Helly, playing in front of him. Obviously we don’t his workload to be too, too much so that’s our job, to lessen that because I know he definitely faced a lot of shots and a lot of good opportunities. But obviously he had a fantastic year. He’s probably the best goalie in the League right now and I’m really excited to play in front of him, that’s for sure.”
“His stick so many times knocked things down, his passes were on the tape,” Maurice said post-game. “That was a pure kind of, I don’t know if you could call it, ‘coach’s porn,’ but when you’re watching hockey video, you know that’s pretty darn good.”