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Appleton, Bourque comfortable and confident after first practice of camp

"It was good to get up and down the ice and battle in the corners too." -Appleton

by Mitchell Clinton @MitchellClinton / WinnipegJets.com

WINNIPEG - For 90 minutes, the Winnipeg Jets flew up and down the ice with a mixture of rush and battle drills in front of a capacity crowd at Bell MTS Iceplex.

The collective cheers from the crowd subsided for the last 15 minutes of practice, when the players engaged in one-on-one battles and laps of the ice for conditioning.

Applause filled the rink after the final whistle, a collective pat on the back for a job well done from the fans attending the annual Fan Fest.

While Fan Fest is only one day, Mason Appleton knows today's skate is just one step in the training camp process.

"It was tough. The tempo and pace were real good. We did a lot of even-man situations and different types of rushes," said Appleton. "It was good to get up and down the ice and battle in the corners too. Overall, a good day with a little conditioning skate at the end - so it was good."

While the practices may feel the same, the 23-year-old Appleton has a completely different perspective in this camp compared to years gone by.

Video: TRAINING CAMP | Mason Appleton

He played in 36 NHL games in 2018-19, scored his first NHL goal against the San Jose Sharks, finishing with three goals and 10 points during his time with the Jets.

Add that to the 15 goals and 32 points he had in 40 games with the AHL's Manitoba Moose and Appleton is a confident player this September.

"I'm far more comfortable. I feel better right out of the gates. There are always those jitters a little bit, especially in your first few years," Appleton said. "Those are non-existent now. It's just hockey, having fun and enjoying training camp, learning from the process."

During line rushes today, Appleton skated with Mark Scheifele at centre and Mathieu Perreault.

"I want to see Mason play with a centre who has a tremendous amount of skill and vision and see where he's at with it," said Maurice. "There's that idea - expose all these guys to something they don't get to see a lot, so we can see where they're at in their skill development."

While the drills during Saturday's skate were familiar for Appleton, they may have been a bit less so for Gabriel Bourque.

Bourque, 28, signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Jets on Aug. 25.

For me and my family it was a good place where the NHL and the AHL are in the same place. Then the way they play, the style of game, the older group, it was a good fit. Then the talk I had with them it was a good match and a good chance for me to come here," said Bourque, who did recognize some faces in the dressing room when he arrived. 

"(Mathieu) Perreault, I know him from summer hockey. (Anthony) Bitetto, I played with in Nashville. The first time is the toughest. Now I'm used to it. Over the years, playing against them, you know who they are. It's not as hard as it is the first time."

Video: TRAINING CAMP | Gabriel Bourque

The left-handed forward has primarily played the wing in his NHL career, which has seen him play in both Nashville and Colorado. Last season, in 55 regular season games with the Avalanche, Bourque had two goals and eight points, adding another goal in 12 playoff games.

He's very familiar with the Central Division and hopes to bring his skill on the penalty kill to the roster.

"I know most of the teams and their power play. I'm sure I can help. We haven't talked about PK so far, but I can't wait to see the system here," said Bourque. "The penalty kill is my strength. I'm going to work on that and my defensive play. I play the same game every night and play hard."

His penalty kill experience will help him in camp, as Maurice would like to roll eight penalty killing forwards - something the team did in the second half of last season.

"We're going to audition a bunch of different guys, but knowing he has that experience helps," said Maurice. "He's a character guy and a real good pro. He has a clean understanding of what his game is. These guys aren't in your office every two weeks wondering what they need to do more of. They know their game. They've been in the league long enough that they know other teams as well."

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