WINNIPEG - David Gustafsson didn't shy away from saying exactly what lasting this long in Winnipeg Jets training camp means to him.
"It means a lot. This is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me," said Gustafsson. "I love to play hockey, so it's good to still be here."
The 19-year-old centre will suit up tonight as the Jets play preseason game number six, which will also serve as the team's final home game of the preseason schedule.
Gustafsson will play between Nikolaj Ehlers and Mathieu Perreault against the Oilers, who are expected to dress a veteran line-up tonight that includes Connor McDavid - who has led the NHL in points in two of the last three seasons.
Video: PREGAME | Paul Maurice
"Connor McDavid is a player I've always looked up to," Gustafsson said. "He's the greatest player in the world so it's going to be good to play against him."
In head coach Paul Maurice's mind, Gustafsson has earned every bit of playing time he's had this preseason, including tonight.
"He's still a young man. He has lots of time to develop. There is a real value in somebody like that being here four more days," said Maurice.
"I don't know where it's going to end for him or what time it is, I do know he has to go back when that time comes. Every video session and every practice, this guy picks it up. You can just see it because it's in his game."
The Jets didn't hold a formal morning skate after practicing for an hour at Bell MTS Iceplex yesterday. So the trio of Ehlers, Gustafsson, and Perreault is the only part of the line-up that is known for certain.
Ehlers has spent the past few days skating with Mark Scheifele (also suiting up tonight) and Blake Wheeler (not playing tonight).
Video: PREGAME | Nikolaj Ehlers
The Danish forward says his focus remains the same throughout camp, though he is looking forward to facing a line-up of primarily NHLers tonight against Edmonton.
"I feel better than I did last year at training camp. I hope I'm going to continue feeling better and better about my game and I hope I can continue getting better the way I feel like I have been. Have I noticed any difference in the small details I've been working at? Yes. But I still have a ways to go. I'm excited about it. Hopefully I can continue getting better at those things.
Despite the fact Ehlers and Perreault have a centre that doesn't have NHL experience, Maurice won't be pulling them off a match-up should they end up on the ice against McDavid.
"You get tested now," said Maurice. "There will be more speed in this game tonight. We're going to run three fairly young centre men. How do you handle those big guys? This is a real good test for the guys in the line-up tonight."
Video: PREGAME | David Gustafsson
In fact, while tonight isn't a regular season game and Maurice admits the game changes following preseason, this match-up against the Oilers is another chance for the Jets head coach to see Ehlers' growth in the areas the team needs the 23-year-old to improve.
"We want more out of him. Not that he hasn't given that to us, but the next step for the franchise is all of those players go from young to Mark Scheifele, to Adam Lowry," said Maurice. "They came in as kids, we don't talk about them as kids, they're driving the bus."
As for Gustafsson, he knows there is still plenty of room for him to improve his game, with tonight's game being the next chance he has to do so.
"I need to improve a lot, especially my skating and winning the battles in the corners and things like that," he said. "(Camp) is going really good and it's getting better every day. Hopefully it keeps going like that."
Puck drop is set for 7 pm CT.
Video: PREGAME | Mark Letestu
Sitting at 2-2-1 in the preseason and with 32 players still in camp, more cuts are coming. The goal, Maurice says, is to bring as close of a 'regular season' line-up to Minnesota on Sunday afternoon as possible for the preseason finale.
That, of course, depends on injuries. Josh Morrissey, Bryan Little, and Adam Lowry skated with the non-playing group today, indicating they're inching toward being ready for opening day.
Maurice said all three would be in the line-up if tonight was a regular season game. However, defenceman Sami Niku is only skating by himself as he recovers from a groin injury.
Add that to the ongoing negotiations with RFAs Kyle Connor and Patrik Laine, in addition to Dustin Byfuglien's leave of absence, and Maurice has a number of possible line-ups in his office.
But he's prepared for everything.
"We have three individual (line-ups), then a couple pairs, then one with all three. The one on my board right now has none of them on it," Maurice said. "The big questions are how we round out the fourth line and maybe the pairings of the D - because of Niku's injury - how we pair those guys together."
--Mitchell Clinton, WinnipegJets.com
The Winnipeg Jets entertain the Edmonton Oilers tomorrow in the final home game of their 2019 pre-season schedule...The Jets are 2-0-1 at home during the pre-season so far...The Jets lost to the Oilers 2-0 in Edmonton back on Sept. 16 in Winnipeg's first game of the pre-season...The Jets close their pre-season schedule Sunday afternoon on the road against the Minnesota Wild.
Sept. 24 at CGY - 2-0 L
Jets Scorers: None
Flames Scorers: Monahan (2), Bennett (2)
Jets Goaltenders: Comrie (18 sv, 2 ga); Berdin (13 sv, 0 ga)
Flames Goaltender: Rittich (20 sv, 0 ga)
Jets PP: 0-for-1
Jets PK: 3-for-4
Recap: The Winnipeg Jets were shut out 2-0 by the Calgary Flames on Tuesday night...Winnipeg has been shut out in both of the road games so far during the pre-season...Andrew Copp and Anthony Bitetto led the Jets with four shots in the game, while JC Lipon and Andrei Chibisov each had a team-leading four hits...Goaltender Eric Comrie stopped 18 of 20 shots in 40 minutes of work, while Mikhail Berdin turned away all 13 shots in the third period in his pre-season debut.
Three Stars: 1. Gaudreau | 2. Giordano | 3. Rittich
The Winnipeg Jets announced today the following six players have been assigned to the Manitoba Moose:
G - Mikhail Berdin
D - Leon Gawanke
D - Luke Green
D - Johnathan Kovacevic
F - Jansen Harkins
F - Skyler McKenzie
The following five players have been released from their professional or amateur try-outs and have reported to the Manitoba Moose:
G - Adam Carlson
D - Jacob Cederholm
F - Cole Maier
F - Emile Poirier
F - Kristian Reichel
The following two players have been assigned to the Moose, pending waivers:
F - Seth Griffith
F - Logan Shaw
VIEW TONIGHT'S ROSTER
Against the Oilers
The Jets went 2-0-1 against the Oilers last season and are 15-14-2 all-time against Edmonton...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 Belleville, 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).