Having gone virtually unnoticed, as an undrafted player going through the grind of the ECHL and the AHL, Jason Jaffray signed with the Vancouver Canucks less than a month ago.
He had a break-out season last year with the Manitoba Moose, turning heads as the Moose's leading scorer. He finished the regular season with a AHL career-high 81 points (35-46-81) and 13 points in 13 post-season games.
While he caught the attention of other teams with his numbers, Jaffray knew exactly where he wanted to be.
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How does it feel to finally be officially part of the Canucks family?
Well it's a great feeling to get [the contract] finally signed and figured out. Obviously this is where I wanted to be right from the start. It was just a matter of ironing out numbers and figuring it out that way.Why Vancouver?
I talked to quite a few different teams and with me having a pretty good season last year, there was some interest from other teams but it was a matter of familiarity and opportunity I think. I played with Alain Vigneault a couple years ago in Manitoba so it's always nice to know that your NHL coach knows what your capabilities are and what you're able to do. The organization in Manitoba is great, it's top notch, it's one of the best in the AHL so if all else fails and I have to play in the AHL, this is where I want to be.
The whole coaching staff moved from here to up there so definitely familiarity and opportunity. I didn't want to go to another organization and have to prove myself all over again and you never know what's going to happen when you go to different organizations. When you know the guys up top and below, they know what you can do, they know what kind of player you are. I thought this was the best fit.Did the Canucks ever approach you before the end of the season?
About two weeks before the trade deadline, they had called and they wanted to get something figured out but we ended up having problems ironing out a deal before the trade deadline.
We finally agreed on a contract but it was a couple of days after the trade deadline, then they ended up finding out to sign the contract, there were some problems with me being able to move up and down and that I wasn't able to play in Manitoba for the rest of the year.
There were just some stipulations - kind of the small writing of the contract - so they pretty much said, we'll talk to you in the summer, keep having a great year. It was a bit frustrating because when you have a solid year, you're kind of hoping that somebody's going to notice. I was hoping they would've noticed a little earlier on but better late than never.How encouraging is it to see someone like Alex Burrows, who's up in the NHL, for you given the road that you're on right now?
I played against Alex in the East Coast Hockey League and I've followed him on his way up to the AHL and the NHL. I think our paths are very similar. When he came up to the AHL, he has a season where he just grinded it out and put up so-so numbers and then two years ago, he got off to a great start and put up great points and earned himself a three year deal.
I'm excited for the opportunity. When you look at guys like Alex Burrows and you look at guys like Rick Rypien, who came out of juniors without being drafted and got opportunity and I think that's one of the things that came into my head about signing contracts with Vancouver. They want the guys playing best. They're not going to take the guys that's their highest draft pick or the guy they put the most money into, they're going to call on the Manitoba Moose that's playing best at this time and we want him.
That's my goal and I want to make the team out of camp but if not, I need to be the best player down here so that when they do have an injury or somebody goes down, I'm that guys they're going to say that's playing best and I'll make the trip out there.Where is Rimbey, Alberta?
That's where I was born but I'm actually from Olds, Alberta, which is about 45 minutes North of Calgary. I've been there for about 10 years and that's my hometown now but I've been an Alberta boy most of my life.Oilers or Flames?
It was the Oilers growing up but lately I've got a lot of buddies that love the Flames and now signing this Vancouver contract, I can't say I'm a fan of either. What kind of impact did it have on you to lose your brother when you were 11?
He was only a couple years older than me and it was a huge impact at that time. I mean, [I was] 11 years old, I was really involved in sports so I was always throwing the ball or playing street hockey with him outside, that sort of thing.
Any time you lose anybody, it's tough but that was an extremely tough situation for me just because we were so close in age and I followed him through hockey and baseball growing up and he got me involved in all those certain sports. It was tough time but I got stronger because of it. I think about him a lot and I hope he helps me through these last couple of years, where I've had these tough times, working my way through the system. You sometimes look back and somebody's probably looking over you.
Growing up from the age of five to ten, I lived at the hockey rink. He was there all the time, he was playing hockey more than I was and so was baseball. We were both huge into both those sports and if it wasn't for him, I don't know how involved I would've been in those sports. I was kind of following him around - he was the big brother so I wanted to do what he was doing - he's [my] role model.What was your experience like moving from Olds to Cranbrook to play junior?
It was obviously tough but I think it was tougher on my parents, for me to be leaving home at such a young age. That's actually where I met my wife and now I have a new little girl, five months old. I had a great time there, we won a Western Hockey League championship and actually the year that they traded [me] away, they actually ended up winning a Memorial Cup championship so I have a lot of buddies that won some big trophies over those years. We had a good team for the three and a half years that I was there and I definitely enjoyed myself.Your highest goal total was 38 goals in junior and you had 35 in the AHL last season, are you a late bloomer?
If you look at my stats over the years, I put up alright points and then after I play a couple years in that league, I kept improving my point total every year. My first year in the East Coast, I put p 85 points but it was tough for me to make the transition in the AHL but when I did get the opportunity and playing with the right guys. My first year in Cleveland, I had 15 points in 30 games and two years ago in Manitoba, I had 37 points in 70 games. I pride myself in getting better, day in and day out, and working hard on the things I need to improve and I think that showed over the years playing in the different leagues.Could Winnipeg support an NHL team again?
There's been a lot talk about that but we still wear our Winnipeg Jets hats and jerseys around here but I mean it's a great hockey city, we've got great fans, I think we're usually in the top 3 of attendance every year of around 8,000 people. I would believe that if we had an NHL team here, it would sell out that hockey rink with 15,000 people, easily every night. I'd like to say it's one of the best hockey towns I've ever played in. I would say yes but I don't really want them playing out here because I enjoy playing here.What was your experience of Alain Vigneault as a coach?
He definitely knows what he's doing, he knows what he's talking about, he's got the respect when he speaks up. He's going to play the guys that are playing best at that time, he's not going to play any favourites or pull any strings like that. He's a very knowledgeable coach and knows what he's doing.