WINNIPEG - The enthusiasm, confidence and plain ol' positive energy in the Winnipeg locker room is impossible to miss right now.
On Saturday - the first of the dogged 15-day grind we call Training Camp - left wing Shawn Matthias called this the best team ever he's played on.
Like, ever ever.
Indeed, there's plenty to be excited about here on the eve of the pre-season, but the Jets aren't letting that get in the way of the task at hand. As Dustin Byfuglien put it so poignantly following Sunday's hour-and-a-half-long practice at Bell MTS Iceplex, "We haven't done nothin' yet."
"Everyone's that much older, wiser and a little bit more experienced," Byfuglien said. "That's all we can go on right here. We're only a couple days into training camp and there (are) a lot of steps we need to take to get to where we need to be.
"We've got to believe in each other. We can't worry about anything but who's in this locker room and anybody who's putting this jersey on. We have to go out there, do our job the way we're supposed to do it and we should be all right."
Video: CAMP | Dustin Byfuglien
The Jets know that after two consecutive years out of the playoffs, expectations are higher than ever. But with the talent they have and the progression they've seen with some of the team's youth, they're ready to make a statement and become a contender in the tough Central Division.
Easier said than done, no doubt, but it all starts here - a few weeks away from the Oct. 4 regular-season opener against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"Sometimes you get a little anxious and it seems like (camp) drags along, but it's nice to get into some game action," forward Adam Lowry, who's entering his fourth year as a Jet, said of Monday's tune-up against the visiting Minnesota Wild. "We've been on the ice for two days and to get on the ice right away tomorrow, we're looking forward to it.
"It's about getting into the right habits and getting yourself ready for Game 1 of the regular season. Obviously not everything is going to click right away in the first exhibition game; there will be some rust, especially with the amount of time off we had in the summer. It's about getting back to that pace, that compete level, and all those things that are going to make us successful. We're going to try and implement them as soon as possible."
Lowry, 24, is hoping to build off a productive full season with the Jets last year. The 6-foot-5, 210-pound pivot had a career-high 15 goals and 29 points, and was relied on heavily for his defence, with 62.8 per cent of his faceoffs taking place in his own end.
Video: CAMP | Paul Maurice
"I'd like to see him continue to get better defensively," said Head Coach Paul Maurice. "He's a stronger man, he's more powerful along on the walls and he's separating guys from the puck. He's becoming more of that grinder.
"He's a different type of guy in terms of offence. He reminds me of Adam Graves. I know that's an older player, but I grew up with him and he scored 50 in the NHL. He doesn't score graceful goals. Gravy never did. He said 30 were in front of the net, 10 went off his (butt) and the other ones were too ugly to mention. Adam, I think, can develop an offensive game that's not a dangle game. You know, get to the front of the net. I see that coming. It may not be in terms of what we ask him to do, but more so about the wingers that he plays with."
Lowry's Bottom 6 role will likely grow even more again this year as the Jets, who finished 27th in goals-against per game with 3.11 in 2016-17, look to shore up their defensive play.
As a group, they have to be better. And they know it.
"We have lofty goals," Lowry said. "We're pushing and we know what we expect of ourselves, but at the same time you've got to go out and execute, and it's a long season. There are things that can happen, so it's important that we don't look too far ahead and give ourselves any gimmes. It's a tough league and there's a lot of parity, and if you look at what Nashville was able to do last year - they just snuck into the playoffs and then they went on a run. It's about getting there, and that's our focus."
INTO THE WILD
The Jets will be going with the following lineup for tomorrow's game against the Wild:
Forwards: Patrik Laine, Mathieu Perreault, Kyle Connor, Brendan Lemieux, Mark Scheifele, Bryan Little, Adam Lowry, Mike Sgarbossa, Blake Wheeler, Nikolaj Ehlers, Joel Armia and Marko Dano
Defence: Logan Stanley, Dustin Byfuglien, Toby Enstrom, Tucker Poolman, Ben Chiarot and Nelson Nogier
Connor Hellebuyck will start in goal and Eric Comrie will back up.
- Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com