Video: PREGAME | Neal Pionk
"As excited as you are on the bench and the blue line, there are people in the building that are more excited. I encourage them to call their parents," said Maurice. "Call your parents and say thanks. You don't get to everybody, but there are a lot of people in the world that are so excited that you're playing your first NHL game, they're more excited than you are."
Since coming into camp in mid-September, Heinola has worked to earn the trust of the coaching staff. Even since then, Maurice has seen Heinola evolve his game.
"He's picked up on the systems really quickly," Maurice said. "He's figured out at least the Winnipeg Jets players. Blake Wheeler you play differently than you play Nik Ehlers - those kind of adjustments - and you can see them in his game.
"He's really quick. I didn't expect that. Video that I had watched after we had drafted him and bringing him into camp, some of the reports - I don't want to say they questioned his skating - they just said for a smaller guy he's not real fast. Except he's figured that out - he is quick. He's been able to change his game."
Video: PREGAME | Paul Maurice
The plan is for Heinola to be paired with Neal Pionk on the blue line. The duo has practiced together this week and Pionk is excited to see how Heinola handles his NHL debut.
"For a young guy like him to come into Madison Square Garden, it's hard to argue that there is a better stage," said Pionk. "It's going to be a lot of fun. He's a heck of a player and he's going to be a good player for a long time. This is just the start."
Of course, this is also a date that has been circled on Pionk's calendar for a while. Ditto for former Jets Jacob Trouba and Brendan Lemieux, now with the Rangers.
The 24-year-old Pionk played his first NHL game on Feb. 9, 2018 with the Rangers and accumulated 101 total for the club before being traded to Winnipeg.
"It's going to be really fun. This is where I started my career and I still have a lot of good friends over there on that side," said Pionk. "That's going to be the best part about tonight is playing against them and hopefully getting a good result."
Video: PREGAME | Blake Wheeler
Pionk has had ample time to get used to the Jets systems. He played in four preseason games accumulating two assists and never played less than 21 minutes, including time on both the power play and the penalty kill.
"That's all you can ask for when you come to a new team is to play more," Pionk said. "Hopefully gel with the guys and know the coaching staff and what their expectations are. I was grateful for that and got a lot of minutes."
The Jets are expected to line-up the same way they did at practice yesterday:
After joining the team for the first time on Monday - a couple days after their contracts were finalized - Kyle Connor and Patrik Laine will see their first action of the 2019-20 season.
Neither one played in a preseason game, but Laine is confident they'll be able to step right in.
"I was working hard for the last two weeks, as were the guys who were in the camp. I think I should be ready to go," Laine said. "It will probably still take a week or two to get into the rhythm and get into game shape. But I'm still ready to play tonight."
Video: PREGAME | Patrik Laine
Puck drop from Madison Square Garden is set for 6 pm CT.
While the team didn't hold a formal morning skate, Bryan Little was on the ice for the first time since he sustained a concussion in the final preseason game against the Minnesota Wild on Sunday.
Maurice said the team won't be pushing Little too hard, but said there has been progress and that the centre has progressed in his recovery past stationary bike rides.
Recently acquired defenceman Carl Dahlstrom will not play tonight after arriving in New York from overseas with the Chicago Blackhawks yesterday. David Gustafsson will also not be in the line-up.
-- Mitchell Clinton, WinnipegJets.com
The Winnipeg Jets begin their 2019-20 season tomorrow at Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers...It's the first game of a four-game road trip for the Jets to start the season...Winnipeg continues its road trip Friday night against the New Jersey Devils.
Sept. 29 at MIN - 5-4 OTW
Jets Scorers: Perreault (1), Lowry (2), Roslovic (2), Appleton (1), Morrissey (2)
Wild Scorers: Koivu (1), Dumba (2), Fiala (1), Zuccarello (2)
Jets Goaltender: Hellebuyck (16 sv, 3 ga), Brossoit (15 sv, 1 ga)
Wild Goaltender: Dubnyk (23 sv, 5 ga)
Jets PP: 1-for-7
Jets PK: 4-for-5
Recap: The Winnipeg Jets finished their seven-game pre-season schedule with a 5-4 overtime win against the Minnesota Wild on Sunday afternoon...Josh Morrissey capped a three-point game (1G, 2A) by scoring the winner 1:09 into overtime with Winnipeg's only shot of the extra frame...Mathieu Perreault (1G, 1A) and Blake Wheeler (2A) also had multi-point games...Gabriel Bourque led the Jets with four hits and four blocked shots.
Three Stars: 1. Morrissey 2. Dumba 3. Perreault
VIEW TONIGHT'S GAME NOTES
The Jets went 3-3-1 during the pre-season, including 2-1-1 at home and 1-2-0 on the road...Blake Wheeler led the Jets in scoring during the pre-season with six points (2G, 4A) in three games...Both of Wheeler's goals were game-winning goals...Defenceman Josh Morrissey (2G, 2A) and Tucker Poolman (1G, 3A) trailed Wheeler with four points each...Goaltender Laurent Brossoit was 3-0 in three games played with a 1.28 goals-against average and .950 save percentage.
The Jets beat the St. Louis Blues 5-1 in their opener last season to improve to 5-1-0 in their past six season openers...As a franchise, Winnipeg is 10-8-1 all-time in season openers...The Jets are 5-2-0 when starting the season on the road, including winning their past four season openers that are on the road...Scoring has rarely been an issue in season openers of late, as the Jets have scored five goals or more in five of their past six season openers and have outscored their opponents 29-20 in the six games...Bryan Little leads the Jets franchise in scoring in season openers with 11 points (6G, 5A) in 12 games, while Patrik Laine has five points (2G, 3A) in three season openers.
On the Road
Including the Heritage Classic on Oct. 26, the Jets play nine of their first 15 games away from Bell MTS Place to start the season...Winnipeg went 22-18-1 on the road last season, which was 13th in the NHL...The Jets won eight of nine road games from Nov. 24-Dec. 31 and never lost more than two consecutive road games...The Jets penalty kill excelled on the road at 82.2%, compared to 75.7% at home...Blake Wheeler led the Jets in scoring on the road last season with 40 points (10G, 30A) in 41 games.
Jets went 18-12-2 against Eastern Conference teams last season, including 11-5-0 against the Metropolitan Division and 7-7-2 against the Atlantic Division...Blake Wheeler (10G, 28A) led the Jets with 38 points in 32 games against the Eastern Conference last season, while Mark Schiefele had 36 points (18G, 18A) in 32 games.
The Jets signed three former first round picks to new contracts during the pre-season...On Sept. 12, defenceman Josh Morrissey signed an eight-year, $6.25 million AAV contract extension...Patrik Laine signed a two-year, $6.75 million AAV on Sept. 27 and Kyle Connor inked a seven-year, $7.14 AAV contract on Sept. 28...With those three contracts signed, the Jets have 16 of the 23 players on the opening night roster signed through the 2020-21 season, while two players are RFAs after this season.
Defenceman Ville Heinola, who the Jets selected 20th overall in the 2019 NHL Draft in June, is on the Jets season opening roster after his first NHL training camp...He played in five pre-season games for the Jets, netting two assists...Since relocation, only Mark Scheifele (2011) and Patrik Laine (2016) are first round picks that have made the Jets opening night roster the season after their draft year...Nineteen-year-old centre David Gustafsson is the first player from the Jets 2018 draft class to reach the NHL...The former second round pick has played the past two seasons for HV71 in the Sweden, registering 24 points (8G, 16A) in 81 games.
Jets vs. NY Rangers Information
All-Time Record: 33-36-4
At Bell MTS Place: 3-6-0
Sept. 29 at MIN
*- Currently on injured reserve
Man-Games Lost: --
How the Jets Were Built
Drafted (14) - Appleton, Connor, Copp, Ehlers, Gustafsson, Heinola, Hellebuyck, Laine, Little, Lowry, Morrissey, Poolman, Scheifele, Roslovic
Trade (3) - Beaulieu, Pionk, Wheeler
Free Agency (6) - Bitetto, Bourque, Brossoit, Kulikov, Letestu, Perreault
Waivers (1) - Dahlstrom
The Manitoba Moose begin their 2019-20 AHL season tomorrow night on the road against the San Antonio Rampage in the first of two games this weekend in Texas...The Moose play the Texas Stars on Saturday in the second game of their two-game road trip...Manitoba hosts the Toronto Marlies on Oct. 11 for their home opener at Bell MTS Place.