At one point this season, Jay Harrison, Drew Stafford, Tyler Myers, and Jiri Tlusty all had their first skates wearing Winnipeg Jets colours. On March 3, 2015, Lee Stempniak was added to that list.
The 32-year-old forward was traded to Winnipeg on March 1st, in exchange for Carl Klingberg. He found out after a phone call from New York Rangers general manager, Glen Sather.
“From there it was getting my daughters to bed and packing while they were sleeping,” Stempniak said. “I left yesterday morning, and got here eventually around 8:30 after some delays. It's happened to me a few times now so it's a little bit easier as you go along. It's never a huge shock. You're always braced for it a little bit. It's certainly a surprise, but at the same time I'm really excited. It's a good team. I've heard great things about the group off the ice and I respect how they play on the ice.
“They're building something here, and I want to be a part of it.”
Stempniak had an inside track when he was trying to learn more about Winnipeg. He said he nearly signed in Manitoba’s capital this past offseason, before deciding to play with the Rangers.
“I'm really good friends with Keith Tkachuk so he knows about the city, he knows a lot of guys here,” said Stempniak. “In terms of the way they treat the players, I'm really good friends with Tanner Glass, and he had nothing but great things to say as well. The guys on the team that I knew, I knew a few guys pretty well before I got here, they had great things to say.”
Coach Paul Maurice had the newest acquisition skating with Adam Lowry and Blake Wheeler at practice today.
“He's got some veteran experience. He can move the puck and make plays,” said Maurice following today’s skate at MTS Centre. “Whenever we're introducing someone new into the line up, the first theory that I'm comfortable with is move as few pieces as possible to do it. I think it's a different element for Blake there on that line.”
The head coach went on to elaborate that this line combination may allow Wheeler to see different defensive pairings from opposing teams. Even though it was only one skate, Wheeler likes what he sees from the new-look forward line.
“(Stempniak) is a really smart player. He picks things up quickly. He's already picked up what we're trying to do out there. He's shown that he can do damage around the net, so it's always fun to play with guys like that,” he said. “I like the way (Lowry) plays the game a lot. He's a big body down there, we can use him to create some space, have him go fish some pucks out of corners and try to get him in some scoring chances.”
Likewise, Stempniak is looking forward to seeing what the three forwards can do together, starting with tomorrow’s game against Ottawa.
“Blake is one of the best skaters in the NHL. He's got so much speed and he creates so much,” said Stempniak. “Lowry is a young guy but he plays really well. He's got a good stick, he's a big body, and physical. For me, just have to try to get on loose pucks, use my speed and when there's an opportunity to shoot the puck, shoot the puck.”
The Ottawa Senators are in Minnesota tonight to take on the Wild, and go into that match up 7-2-1 in their last 10 games. That puts the Senators seven points out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, but Maurice says that makes Ottawa dangerous.
“I think this will be the toughest of our four games at home,” he said. “They're playing with the desperation that those teams play with when the games get under 20 and they're still on the outside looking in. Lots of speed, good quickness to their game, their back end is big and strong. It's going to be up and down the ice with speed but it will be a heavy game too.”