That’s not to say he doesn’t want to light the lamp regularly like he did last year, but Jaffray is ready to take his game to another level and opponents should take notice.
“Coach (Scott) Arniel told me after last season that if I add an aspect of physical play to my game, a little more hitting and mix in a fight every once and a while, it would prove that I can play both sides of the game,” said Jaffray, following practice in late October. “It’s kind of something that I’ve been trying to work on for the last couple of years and something that hopefully they’ll notice.”
The coaching staff of the Vancouver Canucks is the they Jaffray is referring to, as making the jump to Manitoba’s parent club is a goal the 26-year-old is working hard to achieve. He understands that it won’t come easy, but he also knows that playing more physically improves his chances of being called up.
“I’m trying to play a little bit of a tougher game, a Gary Roberts type player rather than being a guy who just tries to go out and get points. If you play that kind of a role, when Vancouver comes looking to call somebody up, you can play a checking role, you can play a goal scoring role, you can do whatever. Not a guy who's going to fight every two or three games, but still plays a tougher role and protects himself rather than having guys who protect you."
A native of Rimbey, Alberta, Jaffray led the Moose is scoring last season with 35 goals and 46 assists in 77 games, and in playoff scoring with six goals and seven assists in 13 games. The undrafted left winger was already raising eyebrows for having worked his way up through the WHL and ECHL, but last season Jaffray proved he can consistently play at a high level and he’s doing it again this season, just with a more physical approach.
Through eight games, the 6’1”, 195-pound sniper has three goals and five assists, alongside 24 penalty minutes. Many are comparing his new style of play to that of Canucks forward Alex Burrows.
“I can see that a little bit, but he’s a little bit more of a rat out on the ice then I think I’ll ever be,” laughed Jaffray. “We both took very similar paths and if you look at him as he was going through the ranks, he was the exact same as me. He was a guy that was just a pure goal scorer, then all the sudden he realized he needed to change his game to be able to play in the NHL. I’m not necessarily going to change my game that much, but just to add a different dynamic to your style of play really helps.”
Packing more of a punch has been a focus for Jaffray, but it wasn’t the only thing he worked on this off-season. After coach Arniel suggested he drop a few pounds to improve his quickness, Jaffray shifted gears and made improving his speed a priority. His hard work certainly paid dividends at Canucks training camp this year.
“I started camp at 194-pounds and I think they saw a big difference in my game. The coaches up in the Vancouver pulled me aside and said ‘wow, you’re in good shape and you’re skating well,’ that’s what you want to hear when you’re in camp. I mean I worked out hard trying to build muscle, but on the other end of it I worked a lot on quick feet and cutting off a few pounds just to try and adapt more to the new NHL.”
Jaffray’s play at training camp this year was a real eye-opener for the Canucks, and it led to appearances in six of Vancouver’s eight exhibition games. When given the opportunity to shine, Jaffray did just that, so he wasn’t disappointed starting the season with the Moose.
“I had a very positive exit meeting when I left Vancouver,” said Jaffray. “They said that no doubt they think that I can play in this league, it’s just a matter of them opening up a spot with somebody going down and me being able to step in.
“But they’ve got a good team up there and they’re relatively healthy right now, so I just have to wait and be the best player when somebody does go down.”
After his breakout season last year, it was unclear whether Jaffray would return to the Canucks’ organization as many teams tried to lure him away. He received a lot of attention this off-season, but when it came right down to it, no other team could offer what Vancouver could: familiarity. In addition to having played with the likes of Kevin Bieksa
and Ryan Kesler
, Jaffray has a rapport with Canucks coach Alain Vigneault as the Jack Adams Award winner was his bench boss in Manitoba in 2005-06.
“It was a matter of feeling comfortable coming into camp and I think that helped out with the camp I had this year. I’m a guy that’s never had that NHL contract in his back pocket, so to be able to go into a summer and not be calling teams, you have the teams actually calling you, definitely gives you a good boost of confidence.”
What exactly led to Jaffray’s exceptional 2006-07 campaign, and ultimately the signing of his first pro-contract, is up for debate, with the leading theory being that he’s been spending more time with the ladies. His wife Michelle and new daughter Kennedy, that is.
“I had a little girl last February, which kind of settled my life down. Definitely my wife and little girl contribute a lot to my success now with them taking care of me and being able to come home and spend a couple of hours with my little girl, that’s something a lot of people would dream about.”
Apparently Michelle’s cooking is also something that a lot of people have been dreaming about.
“I think if you ask any of the guys on the team, they’d say she’s a good cook. She seems to have all them over for Thanksgivings and Christmas dinners and stuff like that.
“My pre-game meal is always chicken parmesan with spaghetti and meatballs. I come home and she’s got that prepared for me, homemade sauce and everything, she’s quite the cook. Like I said, I’ve got to contribute a lot of my success to her.”
Regardless of whether it’s the meatballs or the familiarity that is helping him thrive as a physical sniper, Jaffray is an opportunity away from a promising NHL career.
Members of the Vancouver Canucks take note: if he tells you to break a leg, he may not be wishing you luck.