– After a 149-day wait, Winnipeg Jets hockey has returned.
Training camp 2015 officially began Friday with a total of 59 players taking to the ice at MTS Iceplex.
“They did some real good work this summer, because they were able to push through,” said Head Coach Paul Maurice, describing the half hour-long bag skate at the conclusion of practice. “The players that you expect to lead your team were driving out there. They looked strong, so it
was a good start today.”
Maurice deployed the following forward line combinations and defence pairings at today’s skates – each lasting an hour and 45 minutes:
Group 1 (9-10:45am)
Andrew Ladd - Adam Lowry - Bryan Little
Thomas Raffl - Nic Petan - Chris Thorburn
Brendan Lemieux - Andrew Copp - Joel Armia
Matt Fraser - Ryan Olsen - Scott Kosmachuk
Matteo Gennaro - Jansen Harkins - Jimmy Lodge
Mark Stuart - Jacob Trouba
Toby Enstrom - Jay Harrison
Julian Melchiori - Brendan Kichton
Peter Stoykewich - Brennan Serville
Group 2 (12-1:45pm)
Drew Stafford - Mark Scheifele - Blake Wheeler
Mathieu Perreault - Alex Burmistrov - Nikolaj Ehlers
Matt Halischuk - Chase De Leo - JC Lipon
Austen Brassard - Patrice Cormier - Anthony Peluso
Axel Blomqvist - Michael Spacek
Ben Chiarot - Dustin Byfuglien
Josh Morrissey - Andrew MacWilliam
Adam Pardy - Paul Postma
Aaron Harstad - Nelson Nogier
Maurice said the team will experiment with “two or three” other combinations over the course of training camp to prepare for the inevitable injury bug.
That said, Little’s move to the wing was a hot topic post-practice.
“Not a lot to report after Day 1,” Little said of the move. “I’ve played wing before, but it’s just practice right now. It’s kind of tough to gauge until you get into a game or a scrimmage, but practice went smooth today. … Training camp is the time of year where you can experiment a bit and fool around with the lines. I’m glad we’re doing it now before the season starts.”
Little last played wing during the 2009-10 season with the Atlanta Thrashers. The year prior, he scored a career-high 31 goals in the same position, giving him confidence that he can do it
again if asked to remain on the right side.
“We have a lot of good young players in the system and a lot of guys that can play different positions,” Little said. “A lot of these young kids could probably play wing or centre. That speaks a lot about the depth of the team.
“(Maurice) said if I have a problem with it or if it’s not working out to tell him. Right now I’m going to see how it all plays out. … So far (Lowry) is a pretty easy guy to play with. He’s a big, strong guy,
he can hold onto the puck and make plays.”
Lowry was all smiles when approached by the media, chuckling at the opportunity presented to him today, but he, like Little, cautioned everyone not to read too much into it. It is Day 1, after all.
“It’s always nice to get the opportunity to play with two players like that,” Lowry said. “Obviously nothing’s set in stone but to go into camp and have that opportunity to play alongside Laddy and Litts, it’s a good opportunity for me. Coming into this year I wanted to expand my role and
continue to get better.”
Lowry had an impressive rookie campaign, scoring 11 goals and 23 points, while playing pivotal minutes in the team’s Top 9. Come playoff time, his role was elevated even further, going head-to-head with some of the Anaheim Ducks’ key offensive weapons. That, he says, helped accelerate his development, allowing him to take an even bigger step this year at the
“Last year I was trying to make an impression and trying to make the team (at training camp),” Lowry said. “Obviously you’re still trying to make the team this year, but you have some extra confidence — you know that you can play at this level. As the season wore on last year, I started to gain confidence and I started to make some more plays. My game started to go another
level late in the year and I want to continue to build on that here at this camp.
“There are going to be greater expectations going into my second NHL season, especially playing alongside those guys.”
Added Maurice: “It’s an idea; it’s something we want to look at.
“Last year when Bryan got hurt, Adam went into the middle between Ladd and Michael Frolik and was really effective there. We know that Bryan has been really productive on the wing. We think there’s a chance he might be able to be more productive on the wing. … Somewhere around Day 7-10 he’ll go back into the middle and we’ll look at a different unit.”
It’s all about preparation and experimentation here at training camp.
With names like Ehlers, Petan, Armia, Copp and others vying for a spot, the question is often asked: “What do you need to do to make an impression and separate yourself from the others?”
Maurice has the answer.
“We need them to be able to play our game. We have a certain style of hockey that we need to play and that’s what they need to prove they can do — play in the exhibition (games) and give us the belief that they’ll get better.
“Playing their game isn’t going to help them make the team. Playing our game makes the team.”
Captain Andrew Ladd and all-star defenceman Dustin Byfuglien are both entering the final year of their respective contracts and are set to become unrestricted free agents on July 1, 2016 – that
is, if a new deal isn’t reached by then.
Both sides say negotiations are ongoing and that they would love to stay in Winnipeg.
“I’m sure both sides were hoping to have something done by now, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way,” Ladd said. “There’s been good dialogue the entire time. My agent obviously keeps me informed of what’s going on and how the process is going, but it’s easier to put it on the backburner now that we’re getting going and I can just focus on going to the rink every day.”
Ladd had a career-high 62 points (24G, 38A) last season, despite playing much of the year with a painful sports hernia that required off-season surgery.
Byfuglien also had a stellar campaign, recording 18 goals, 45 points and 124 penalty minutes. The Roseau, MN product began the year at right wing, but moved back to defence mid-season after a rash of injuries to four of the Jets’ Top 6 blueliners left the team shorthanded. The results were instantaneous, with Byfuglien earning an invitation to the NHL All-Star Game for the third
time in his career.
The 30-year-old was one of the standouts in today’s second session, showing great speed and that intimidating physical presence Jets fans have been accustomed to.
“I just come to work. I have people to take care of that,” Byfuglien said of the contract talks. “I’d love to stay here and be a Jet for my career.”
Grant Clitsome, Jussi Olkinuora, John Alberts, Jan Kostalek and Tyler Myers all missed today’s practices with various injuries.
Clitsome did not pass his physical and is not expected to play this year, which came as no surprise to the organization.
Olkinuora and Alberts have pre-existing injuries, but are improving, while Kostalek was hurt in Monday's game against the Edmonton Oilers prospects in Penticton.
Myers has a “little tweak” and according to Maurice, “He’s very fit and has done some good work” over the off-season.
The team is making a concerted effort to be as careful as possible at this time of year.
“I’m not letting (Myers) on the ice until he’s 100 percent,” Maurice said.
— Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com