WINNIPEG - Matt Hendricks will make his Jets debut on Thursday when the Jets open a quick two-game road trip against the two-time defending Cup champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The forward suffered a lower-body injury after a blocking a shot during the preseason, and was activated off injured reserve Wednesday before the team departed for the American northeast.
"I've been looking forward to this one for quite a while," Hendricks said. "The team's been playing well. Hopefully I can come in, give them a little bit of support and a little bit of help. … I'm going to do anything I can to help support these guys and help our team become a better one."
Hendricks, who was brought in to help tidy up the penalty kill, win faceoffs and be a voice in the dressing room, will debut at centre alongside Brendan Lemieux and Joel Armia.
In a corresponding move, Nic Petan was re-assigned to the Manitoba Moose to make room on the roster. Petan was held without a point in six games and was averaging just under nine minutes per game in ice time.
"The easiest answer with Nic is that he's (waiver-exempt), and we can keep all our players this way," said Head Coach Paul Maurice.
"He's an offensive guy and there wasn't a lot of offence happening. The argument would be that he's not playing with real offensive players, but those guys who he's playing with are making the same argument. There's just not a lot happening down there.
"I like Nic. I think he's a really good player. The fact that he's not playing top six in the NHL at 22 (years old), for me, is not an issue. … He's got to find a way to take the nine minutes he's playing - and some of that's power-play time - and get a little bit more happening for him. It's tough for him to get into a rhythm at nine minutes, and he's going to want to play more minutes, but he's going to have to do more to play those minutes."
Video: PRACTICE | Paul Maurice
What may have also impacted the decision was the play of Lemieux, who made his NHL debut last week in a 4-3 win over the Minnesota Wild and showed well in his 9:53 of ice time.
"I liked his game, I liked what he brought and I'm interested to see, especially in the next two (games), him being able to do that again," Maurice said.
Lemieux will have a fourth-line job at even strength, but will see plenty of power-play time as well as he assumes the net-front role previously occupied by the injured Adam Lowry. (Lowry, by the way, is improving and will the join the team on the road, but will not suit up in either of the next two games.)
"(Lemieux) has a history of being really effective in the net-front (position)," Maurice said. "He can get his stick on the puck and get those tips. He's also got a really good shot. He came in and his mindset was that of a two-way player, but an offensive guy. … He's got some good skills in front of the net and he's not afraid to stand there."
Lemieux is excited to play a key role in Thursday's matchup, but has already turned the page on the 'honeymoon period' that was his NHL debut.
"I'm really excited [to stay with the Jets]," Lemieux said in response to Wednesday's roster move. "It was great to be able to enjoy the first game, but we're back to business. This is pro hockey and it's about wins and losses. I'm excited to be able to help, but it's not about me anymore - the first game is over. I'm just going to do what I can do to contribute, and go into Pittsburgh and get two points."
Video: PRACTICE | Brendan Lemieux
The Penguins, meanwhile, are coming off a 2-1 overtime win over the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday, improving their record to 3-0-1 at PPG Paints Arena, and 6-3-1 overall.
Phil Kessel scored the OT winner, while Matt Murray had a marvelous night in goal, stopping 29 of 30 shots in the win. The 23-year-old had a rough start to the year, allowing 11 goals on only 65 shots in his first two games, but has been lights-out ever since, posting victories in each of his last six starts.
For the Jets, the key after a five-day break will be matching the speed of a team that has an awful lot of it.
"That's the big challenge for us - getting our game up to speed," Maurice said.
"Really what they're good at is they defend really, really hard. Because of their talent, they can be a little bit patient in the game. … The confidence they have in their offensive game allows them to compete and play smart."
Here are the forward line combinations and defence pairs the Jets will be going with against the Penguins:
Connor - Scheifele - Wheeler
Ehlers - Little - Laine
Tanev - Copp- Matthias
Lemieux - Hendricks - Armia
Morrissey - Trouba
Enstrom - Byfuglien
Kulikov - Myers
Chiarot - Poolman
- Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com