WINNIPEG - After a day of fitness testing and two gruelling days of 90-minute skates, the Winnipeg Jets will finally open the preseason tonight in Edmonton against the Oilers.
It will be the first chance for the team's coaching staff to evaluate some of the new faces in camp in game action. For some, the adjustment to the North American ice surface is a challenge they'll have to overcome.
Luckily for David Gustafsson - selected in the second round of the 2018 NHL Draft - he has three games of experience on the smaller ice surface, thanks to the Rookie Showcase.
"It's hard when you get here and you play on a little rink and it's a different game. It was good to get some games in before I got here," Gustafsson said. "I'm really excited but I'm a little nervous too."
Video: PREGAME | David Gustafsson
Outside of getting adjusted to the different sized surface, Gustafsson has also been learning the Jets system in all three zones.
"This practice I asked a lot of questions. Guys were probably tired of me. But I ask a lot of questions to know the drills and know the guys," said Gustafsson, who will rely on his defensive instincts tonight. "I feel like that's a strength I've got and that helps me a lot. It's made it a lot easier to adjust to North American play."
The 19-year-old Swedish product will centre a line between Joona Luoto and Mason Appleton. Head coach Paul Maurice says he won't be looking for any line matches tonight and hopes that each line gets an opportunity to go up against players like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, James Neal, and a couple other Oilers veterans.
"We'll work almost completely on shift length. If we run a faster shift length than the other team and they get out against what we perceive to be our fourth line - I think they're all fairly even - then it's a good chance," Maurice said.
"That's what they want. If you're on the Winnipeg Jets bench, you hope I don't play Bryan Little against Nugent-Hopkins. You hope you get your chance."
The rest of the Jets line rushes looked like this:
Defenceman Neal Pionk will be seeing his first action in a Jets jersey since being acquired from the New York Rangers in the off season. He feels the time off the ice with his new teammates is just as valuable as on the ice.
"Getting on the plane and travelling a bit, gelling with the team, talking before the game and after the game - that's how you create chemistry with guys is conversation," said Pionk, who said he's been chatting with Maurice on and off since the trade.
"He emphasized playing a quick game, playing a fast game," Pionk said. "I've said before, it's not necessarily about your feet but more about your puck movement too and getting the puck to the forwards as fast as you can."
Video: PREGAME | Neal Pionk
Pionk has spent each of the first two days skating with the earlier group (filled with primarily NHLers from last year's roster), while Gustafsson has skated with the second group with those who played in the AHL, overseas pro leagues, or major junior hockey.
Maurice is interested to see what these players have left in the tank after the tough weekend of skating.
"We're not holding anyone accountable for mistakes. Those are, right now, teaching opportunities. You just want to see the energy and simplicity," Maurice said. "We've worked on some of our rush concepts, both ways, we've worked on some offensive and defensive zone positioning.
"This is the first time where these guys - we've scouted them, we know them - but now they're going to play against similar competition, some older guys, so we'll see how they react to it."
Eric Comrie will get the start in goal with Mikhail Berdin backing him up. Puck drop from Rogers Place is set for 8 pm CT.
-- Mitchell Clinton, WinnipegJets.com
VIEW TONIGHT'S JETS ROSTER
The Winnipeg Jets begin their seven-game 2019 pre-season schedule tonight at Rogers Place against the Edmonton Oilers...After tonight's game, the Jets practice at Bell MTS Iceplex tomorrow before hosting the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday at Bell MTS Place.
Winnipeg's roster for tomorrow's game is led by veteran Bryan Little, whose 836 games is the most in franchise history...He's played in all 82 games in each of the past two seasons for the Jets...Little has played his entire 12-season career with the Jets franchise...Little accounts for 836 of the 2,694 games of NHL experience in the Jets lineup tomorrow (31%).
Meet the New Guys
Winnipeg's roster tomorrow has six players that were acquired since the end of last season...Neal Pionk was acquired from the New York Rangers via trade, while the other five were signed as free agents.
D - Anthony Bitetto
D - Gabriel Bourque
F - Andrei Chibisov
F - Mark Letestu
F - Joona Luoto
D - Neal Pionk
The Winnipeg Jets begin their seven-game 2019 pre-season schedule tomorrow at Rogers Place against the Edmonton Oilers...After tomorrow's game, the Jets practice at Bell MTS Iceplex tomorrow before hosting the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday at Bell MTS Place.
Five of the six defenceman slated to play for Winnipeg tomorrow have NHL experience...Only 2016 first-round selection Logan Stanley has yet to make his NHL debut.
Across the Pond
Three forwards are playing in their first professional game in North America tomorrow...Russian Andrei Chibisov played in the KHL with Magnitogorsk last season, Joona Luoto has come to Winnipeg from Tappara of Liiga in Finland, while 2018 second rounder David Gustafsson played with HV71 in the Swedish League.
Against the Oilers
The Jets went 2-0-1 against the Oilers last season and are 15-14-2 all-time against Edmonton...Winnipeg is 3-1-0 in three seasons at Rogers Place, including three consecutive wins...Josh Morrissey (1G, 3A) and Mark Scheifele (2G, 2A) led the Jets in scoring against the Oilers last season with four points in three games.
The Jets are scheduled to face the Calgary Flames at Mosaic Stadium in Regina on Oct. 26 for the 2019 Tim Hortons Heritage Classic...This is Winnipeg's second outdoor game, as the Jets hosted the Edmonton Oilers in 2016 Tim Hortons Heritage Classic at IG Field.
The Jets play five of their first six games on the road to begin the regular season, including a four-game road trip to start the season...Winnipeg visits the New York Rangers, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, and Pittsburgh Penguins to kick off the 2019-20 campaign...The Jets were 22-18-1 on the road last season, which was 13th in the NHL.
The Jets went 1-2 during the Rookie Showcase earlier this month in Bellville, Ont...The Jets rookies beat Montreal 2-1, while they dropped the two games to Ottawa (8-1 and 2-1 OTL)...Cole Maier led the Jets contingent in scoring with three points in three games (1G, 2A).
The Jets play seven pre-season games in 14 days this month...Winnipeg plays their usual pre-season counterparts twice each - Minnesota, Calgary, and Edmonton - and host the defending Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues on Sept. 20 at Bell MTS Place.