WINNIPEG – Twenty-seven down, four to go.
The Winnipeg Jets made some difficult decisions earlier today, re-assigning 14 players to the Manitoba Moose (Patrice Cormier, Matt Fraser, Matt Halischuk and Julian Melchiori must all clear waivers), and two – Nelson Nogier and Brendan Lemieux – to their respective junior clubs.
Nikolaj Ehlers, Andrew Copp, Nic Petan, JC Lipon, Thomas Raffl and Connor Hellebuyck are the rookies that remain.
“The players that stayed, each one is a bit different,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said. “We’ve wanted each of them to find a way to play our game in a different manner because they have different skill-sets. We’ll give them each another opportunity to play a game – possibly two – and we’ll
go from there.
“The competition now will get a bit stronger with all the cuts around the league. All these teams now are going to be very close to their [opening night] lineup in these last few games. We’ll get a better look at them against the players they’re more likely to play against, and with.”
The Jets must be down to 23 players by next Tuesday, giving Ehlers, Copp, Petan, Lipon, Raffl and Hellebuyck one more week to impress.
Three games remain in the exhibition schedule, beginning tomorrow night against the Ottawa Senators, who trimmed their roster by 23 earlier today.
“It’s a dream for every young boy [to play in the NHL], so being one step closer to making the team feels good,” Ehlers said. “But it’s not over yet. There are still some games and there are going to be some more cuts, but I feel pretty comfortable about where I stand right now. I just have to go out there and show that I can play on the team this year. … Until you hear the news about whether you’re staying or not, you’re going to work your butt off to stick around.”
Ehlers is averaging more than 16 minutes per game in ice time and has eight shots on goal in three exhibition contests. He has yet to record a point, but is confident the offence will come, especially if the chemistry between he and his linemates – Mathieu Perreault and Adam Lowry – continues to evolve as it has.
“I’ve been feeling really comfortable in the games that I’ve played,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the next few games.”
Following an 8-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild last night, Petan admits the relatively short haul back to Winnipeg felt a little longer with the looming uncertainty of cut-down day.
“It definitely crosses your mind. Last night was kind of a rough night, but you just try and stay positive,” he said of his mood on the plane last night.
“I’m obviously very happy to still be here. Coming to the rink today was a good chance to come out and have a hard practice. … I’ve got to keep doing what I’m doing, and that’s working hard. I’ve
got to show that I’ve got, but do it within the system.”
Petan is currently skating on the wing, on a line with Copp and Chris Thorburn. He has one assist to this point in the pre-season, helping soften some of the pressure the first-year pro is understandably experiencing.
“It’s there,” he admits, “but I’ve always dealt with the pressure pretty well, so I try to stay calm, stay positive and confident out there.”
Ditto Lipon, who’s arguably seen the biggest jump when compared to last year.
“He did some really good work this summer,” Maurice said. “He’s bigger, he’s faster, he’s stronger and he’s able to compete at a higher level, longer. He’s shown a real high level of grit and agitation on the ice and it’s something he does naturally very well. The big difference for me from last year is his speed and his strength. There’s a lot more power in his stride and as a result, he’s getting to those hits in the corners faster and leaving a bigger impact.”
Lipon is entering his third year as a pro, scoring 14 goals and 68 points over the last two seasons with the St. John’s IceCaps.
The 22-year-old has a goal in two pre-season games and has been a force physically, mixing it up with even the most established NHL veterans.
“Usually this is the day that you go back to the minor-league team, and I’m still here, so it’s good,” he said with a smile. I’m just working hard and moving my feet. Just trying to get noticed every game.”
With one week to go, the Jets have plenty of options in front of them.
“When we get down to the last few players, it’s not only about them anymore. It’s how they fit with the people that we would play with them,” Maurice said. “Which three can thrive the most? What
can they bring to the line?”
GOOD TO GO
Bryan Little, Andrew Ladd and Tyler Myers all took part in today’s practice. Maurice hadn’t yet spoken with Head Athletic Therapist Rob Milette at the time of his press conference, but did believe that all three would be available for tomorrow’s game vs. Ottawa.
— Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com