WINNIPEG - With his new multi-year signed, head coach Paul Maurice was back on the ice with his team on Thursday as the Winnipeg Jets prepare to host the San Jose Sharks on Friday night.
The team went through a 30-minute skate at Bell MTS Place. After that, the players had a chance to react to Maurice - the second longest tenured coach in the NHL - being behind the bench for the foreseeable future.
"It's awesome. He's the only coach I've had in the NHL and gave me an opportunity to play starting out. I'm super happy for him. He's super well-deserving," said alternate captain, Josh Morrissey. "I'm excited to have him as my coach here going forward. He's a great coach for us. I've been lucky to have him so far and I'm excited to keep it going."
The 24-year-old Morrissey is part of a blue line that underwent a significant change over the off season. But even with names like Tyler Myers, Ben Chiarot, and Jacob Trouba moving on - and Dustin Byfuglien not with the team so far this season - the Jets still find themselves one point back of a wildcard spot in the Western Conference.
Adversity has come in many forms for the Jets this season - including over 200 man games lost due to injury - but Morrissey believes Maurice, his staff, and the players have all bought in to the 'stay in the fight' mentality since the start of the season.
"He's a guy that all the players want to play for," Morrissey said. "He understands that each year you have a new group of guys, each player is a different person. What works for Player 'A' might not work for Player 'B.' He's adapted. Even in my fourth year playing for him, he's adapted in that time.
"He understands the situation, the time of the year, all those sorts of things. Because of that, I don't think the message ever gets stagnant. That's what makes him such a great coach."
Jets captain Blake Wheeler has said that one of the communication tools Maurice has used over the years is changing his message to the team. That keeps things fresh and current, as the roster typically does change year-over-year.
Communication has always been a strength for Maurice - an asset that was only heightened in its importance after a season coaching in the KHL in Russia - and it applies to individual players as well as the team as a whole.
"He told me right away when I came here as an 18-year-old, he's not going to show me too much video," said Patrik Laine. "He's not going to tell me how to play offence. He's going to let me figure it out on my own. He let me make mistakes and not get benched all the time.
"He put me right away into the position where I can produce, where I can score, where I can be a good player on this team. That was awesome."
Young players like Laine breaking into the NHL at the age of 18 used to be rare - now, it happens far more often. Ville Heinola - drafted in the first round of the 2019 NHL Draft - made Winnipeg's opening day roster as an 18-year-old as well.
This season's roster has seen ages from 18 all the way up to 33. Being able to get a message across to players, regardless of age, is critical.
"We have a really good, young group of guys that are coming together and are making really important strides in their individual game, which will eventually lead to a real strong team game here," said Maurice. "Being able to communicate and work within that group, I've been very fortunate in that situation."
Now, the Jets are looking ahead to Friday's tilt, the fourth game of a six-game home stand.
Wheeler didn't skate with the Jets on Thursday and his status for the game against the Sharks - the third and final regular season match-up between the two this season - is up in the air.
"He's under the weather," said Maurice. "We'll make a decision tomorrow."
With no Wheeler on the ice, and Tucker Poolman and Luca Sbisa in regular practice jerseys for the second consecutive session, the line rushes looked like this:
Puck drop is set for 6 pm CT.