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Jets' youth on display

by Ryan Dittrick (@ryandittrick) / Winnipeg Jets

WINNIPEG – It wasn’t all that long ago that Adam Lowry, just 22 himself, was the one whose pre-game nap was either interrupted or entirely non-existent thanks to the nervousness of his first NHL game day.

Fast forward more than a year and a half, and he’s now one of the ‘veterans’ up front, helping some of the Winnipeg Jets’ top prospects make the jump, or at the very least, get their feet wet here with the big club.

The latest addition from the Manitoba Moose, Scott Kosmachuk, made his NHL debut last night, recording three hits in nine minutes and 25 seconds of ice time alongside Lowry and
Chris Thorburn.

“There are definitely a lot of nerves and anxiety throughout the day,” said Lowry, who made his big-league debut on Oct. 9, 2014. “You’re just waiting for the hours to go by and get out there. Once you get a few shifts in, you settle in and realize you can do it. He did a real good job last night. He was moving his feet, he was on pucks and was creating some turnovers. The longer you play the more comfortable you’re going to get, and I think we’re going to see an even better player
coming up here."

Kosmachuk, who credited Lowry for helping settle the nerves both prior to and during the game, joins Nikolaj Ehlers, Nic Petan, JC Lipon, Connor Hellebuyck and Josh Morrissey as those who have played their first NHL game this season. Andrew Copp and Joel Armia, meanwhile, had just
one game under their belt coming into the year.

“I’m still a young guy in this league, but it’s important to try and make everyone feel comfortable,” Lowry said. “I was able to play a few games with him with the Moose, and we’ve developed a
pretty good friendship from development camp, to training camp, to now.”

Kosmachuk had a positive influence, but the Jets were unable to overcome two Predators goals in the final minute of the first period, ultimately dropping their fourth of a five-game home stand, 4-2. It’s a young group now, and the challenges linked to a new crop – one that can compete for several years down the road – come as no surprise to the head coach.

Injuries to Bryan Little, Mark Stuart, Anthony Peluso and Nikolaj Ehlers, along with the trade of Andrew Ladd to the Chicago Blackhawks, have forced young players into new roles. It’s an audition, of sorts, but the Jets are committed to the plan, and are eager to see what some of their prospects – like Kosmachuk, Lipon and Morrissey, most recently – have to offer here late in the year.

“We had to develop a core of players that could drive the team for quite a while, and we’ve got some good young players that have come in and done that,” Paul Maurice said. “There are some growing pains that come with that, and to honest with you, those are probably going to continue.

“It’s our job to be right. It’s our job to take that strong belief and conviction in the direction we’re going – and Kevin (Cheveldayoff) has that, and Mark (Chipman) has that, and I certainly believe in the group that’s coming in and the group that’s here now – to [ensure] it is the right direction. We have a strong core developed, we have players to do that, but they’re early on in their
development.”

The Jets will head into Thursday’s game against the Red Wings with a 27-34-5 record for 59 points, 13 back of a playoff spot with 16 games to play. Maurice isn’t putting a timeline on when the Jets will be back in the playoffs, but remains confident in the process of developing their young talent to help drive them to perennial contender status as soon as possible, and for many years to come.

“As soon as we make it,” he said. “There wouldn’t be very many teams that can say it with certainty, because you can win the Stanley Cup and miss the playoffs (the next year). We’re moving toward it. The more young drivers, the closer we get to the core driving the team, the younger players, the closer we’ll get to it.”

The Jets will play three of their next four games on the road, where they have had plenty of success of late, going 6-3-2 in their last 11 away from MTS Centre.

– Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com

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