Fans can watch the 2024 NHL Draft on Friday night on ESPN. And Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final is one day away. However, the week ahead promises to be full of offseason action. One team that may potentially be at the center of it is the Winnipeg Jets. Winnipeg is reportedly “likely” to trade top prospect Rutger McGroarty before the NHL Draft this week, according to The Athletic's Murat Ates.

The report from Ates confirms an earlier report from NHL insider Elliotte Friedman. Friedman reported that Winnipeg held active conversations around McGroarty when talking trade with other teams. Ates is the first to report that a Rutger McGroarty trade is likely to occur before the NHL Draft.

Winnipeg selected the Michigan star with the 14th selection in the 2022 NHL Draft. He spent the last two seasons in Ann Arbor playing for the Wolverines. This past season saw McGroarty emerge as a star for them. He scored 16 goals and 52 points in 36 games as he helped Michigan make the Frozen Four Tournament this year.

Rutger McGroarty, Jets at an impasse

Rutger Mcgroarty shakes hands with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman after being selected as the number fourteen overall pick to the Winnepeg Jets in the first round of the 2022 NHL Draft at Bell Centre.
Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Things began to change between McGroary and Winnipeg once the college hockey season ended, according to Ates. The Michigan star believed he was ready to turn pro and sign with the Jets. Winnipeg agreed and wanted to sign him. However, the two sides had a different idea of how the beginning of his professional career would unfold.

McGroarty believed he was ready to play in the NHL. But the Jets were unwilling to provide any promises for NHL playing time in their discussions. As a result, McGroarty elected not to sign with Winnipeg back in April. At first, the disconnect did not appear as if it would lead to a trade. But the situation has become more strenuous in recent weeks.

Ates notes that this situation is rather different than other instances we've see in the past. “This isn’t a situation where the player wants out of Winnipeg because of his views on the city. Instead, there appears to be a disconnect between how Winnipeg’s player development viewed and communicated its plan with McGroarty and McGroarty’s view of his own future,” he noted, via The Athletic.

Path to the NHL

Rutger McGroarty is only 20 years old. But his ambition to play in the NHL soon is certainly understandable. The Winnipeg draft pick comes from a Michigan program that has produced a lot of league-ready talent in a short amount of time. Just this past season, Gavin Brindley and Frank Nazar made their debuts in the league with their respective teams.

There is an important difference, of course. Brindley and Nazar were drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets and Chicago Blackhawks, respectively. Neither franchise is a playoff contender at this time. They have more room to make an impact at the NHL level on these teams. But there is a history of young players signing for playoff teams out of college.

In 2023, the Toronto Maple Leafs signed Matthew Knies amid their playoff chase. Knies played seven games, scoring a goal and four points in the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Knies had an impact in the 2024 postseason, as well. Going a bit further back, Colorado Avalanche star Cale Makar made his NHL debut in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2019.

Where McGroarty's career goes from here obviously remains to be seen. In any event, he certainly has the potential to play a big role in the NHL moving forward. And it'll be interesting to see which team makes a move to acquire the 20-year-old Michigan star before the 2024 NHL Draft.