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Jets open pre-season schedule tonight vs. Minnesota

by Ryan Dittrick (@ryandittrick) / Winnipeg Jets

WINNIPEG – The Winnipeg Jets open their 2015 pre-season schedule tonight against the Minnesota Wild at MTS Centre.

With 59 players in camp entering the front half of a back-to-back set, the Jets will be going with a young lineup here tonight, with only 9 of the 18 skaters appearing in a regular-season game last year. The rookies (and returnees) include: Alex Burmistrov, Nikolaj Ehlers, Brendan Lemieux, Joel Armia, Nic Petan and Thomas Raffl up front, and Josh Morrissey and Brendan Kichton on the back end.

Ondrej Pavelec will get the start in goal and may go the distance depending on how he’s feeling, otherwise Connor Hellebuyck will be given the reigns at some point after the 10-minute mark of the second period.

Pavelec is coming off a career year, recording a 2.28 goals-against average, a .920 save percentage and five shutouts in 50 appearances.

The full forward line combinations and defence pairings are as follows:

Mathieu Perreault - Alex Burmistrov - Nikolaj Ehlers
Drew Stafford - Mark Scheifele - Blake Wheeler
Brendan Lemieux - Andrew Copp - Joel Armia
Chris Thorburn - Nic Petan - Thomas Raffl

Toby Enstrom - Dustin Byfuglien
Mark Stuart - Jacob Trouba
Josh Morrissey - Brendan Kichton

Ondrej Pavelec
Connor Hellebuyck

Exhibition or not, the Jets are looking for a W.

“We’re going to approach like we would any other game,” Wheeler said. “We have guys that naturally have that (competitive) fire – whether it’s a scrimmage or playing shinny hockey before the season, it doesn’t matter. We have guys that want to win and guys don’t take it too well when things don’t go our way. It’s what made our group successful last year and I anticipate it will again this year, too.

We have to use these [pre-season games] as best we can to get ready for that first game. That all starts tonight.”

The Wild are coming off a 3-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres last night at Xcel Energy Center, while the Jets are finally getting started after four straight days of practice. Rust is inevitable, as it usually is early in the pre-season, but a series of scrimmages over the past few days will have tuned them up as best as possible without a proper opponent.

As Wheeler explains, nothing compares to a game situation like the game itself.

“You’re still trying to get in sync with one another and you’re still trying to get up to game speed. … It will take a little bit of time to iron out some of those wrinkles. That’s the biggest challenge, but we’re excited to get going.”

While the pre-season doesn’t count for anything in the standings, fellow veteran Mark Stuart sees it as an opportunity to perfect team strategies.

“It will probably be a bit sloppy to start, but we have a lot of things to work on, so it’s good, it’s exciting,” he said.

“There’s a little bit of an adjustment period no matter how long you’ve been playing, but I’m excited to get out there tonight and see how things go.”

With 12 years and more than 500 games of NHL experience under his belt, Stuart has already offered some advice to the youngsters looking to make an impression.

“Just enjoy it. Kids put too much pressure on themselves and they overdo it a little bit,” he said. “Play in our system and use the things that we’ve learned over the last four days and the things we’ve been practicing. These guys are here for a reason. They have enough skill and enough smarts to play the game.”

CENTRE OF ATTENTION

Head Coach Paul Maurice will be keeping a close eye on the Perreault-Burmistrov-Ehlers line tonight as the evaluation process continues.

Who doesn’t love a good test?

“I know what they’re good at. They’re going to be good with the puck, they’re going to make some creative plays and hopefully they can generate some offence,” he said. “They’re also going to be challenged to change the way they think when they don’t have the puck as a group.

"We’re going to get a good look at them in their own end as well. … The three of them may or may not put themselves in a position to show how they’d handle what they’re not good at.”

Burmistrov is understandably excited about centering the top line tonight after spending the past two years in the KHL.

“I’m really excited. I missed these fans,” he said following the morning skate. “It’s going to be a little bit different, but I hope to learn quick.”

Burmistrov tallied 20 goals and 64 points in 108 KHL games after spending the first three years of his professional career with the Atlanta Thrashers/Jets organization. The eighth pick in the 2010 Draft, Burmistrov has 194 NHL games to his name, recording 23 goals and 35 assists over three seasons ending in 2012-13.

Ehlers, 19, had more than a 100 points last year with the Halifax Mooseheads.

Perreault matched a career-high with 18 goals last season before being sidelined with an injury. Still, he managed to finish with 41 points in just 62 games.

The trio should definitely be a threat offensively. As for the rest, Maurice will have the final say. It's what the pre-season's all about.

— Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com

MINNESOTA'S LINEUP

32 Niklas Backstrom G
35 Darcy Kuemper G
3 Charlie Coyle C
4 Mike Reilly D
6 Marco Scandella D
10 Jordan Schroeder RW
14 Justin Fontaine RW
18 Ryan Carter LW
23 Gustav Olofsson D
24 Matt Dumba D
26 Thomas Vanek LW
27 Brett Sutter C
28 Tyson Strachan D
36 Michael Keranen LW
37 Maxime Fortunus D
45 Marc Hagel LW
47 Christoph Bertschy RW
52 Zach Palmquist D
53 Tyler Graovac C
54 Brett Bulmer RW
56 Erik Haula C
63 Kurtis Gabriel RW
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