WINNIPEG – Put 59 players on the same sheet of ice and it’s bound to get competitive.
After all, there are only about 23 jobs available.
Four days in and on the eve of the exhibition opener, Head Coach Paul Maurice and the Winnipeg Jets are learning more and more about what they’ve got to work with.
It’s time to play.
The Jets face off with the Minnesota Wild tomorrow night in the first of seven pre-season games before the 2015-16 regular campaign kicks off on Oct. 8.
“We’re right at the very, very beginning of all that,” Maurice said of the camp evaluation process. “We’re mindful that these are exhibition games and that there’s a whole other gear to this, but you still need to see all those players that are competing for jobs and somebody’s got to excel.”
Among those looking to excite…
After a strong showing at last week’s Young Stars Classic, Brendan Lemieux continues to impress here at main camp.
The 6-foot-1, 210-pound winger has been a physical force, delivering punishing open-ice hits and acting a vet with his handle on system play. He’s proven his gift offensively, driving the attack with speed, skill and a confident shot, leading many to wonder if the 19-year-old will be ready for primetime sooner than expected.
“Brendan is an example of a player who has a defined look to his game,” Maurice said. “I can tell you what he does. I’ve seen it now for four days pretty consistently. He’s not far off a pro work level. As he gets bigger and stronger he’ll be able to work harder and do more, but his attitude is right on all the drills. He’s doing it like a veteran guy — he’s shooting to score, he’s coming across the circles hard. I’ve got lots of time for him.”
Lemieux is in his final year of junior eligibility after scoring 41 goals last year with the OHL’s Barrie Colts.
That came in addition to 145 penalty minutes, fully defining the player’s rare skill-set.
“There are grinding forwards and then there are power forwards and a power forward has to have some hands. Brendan’s a power forward,” Maurice said. “He’s big and strong and he’s built heavy enough to compete for those pucks, but you have to have some hands to go along with it. He’s knocking people down out there, he’s beating some goaltenders…”
Asked whether or not he chance to make the big club this year, Maurice didn’t say no.
“I think he’s doing everything he can. How that sorts out in two or three weeks, we’ll see. … But I like him as a player.”
READY TO TAKE THE NEXT STEP
For defenceman Jacob Trouba, the first few days have been a good refresher for some of the systems learned last year.
“We’re ready to go,” Trouba, who’s fully healed after suffering a broken hand late last year, said following Monday’s practice at MTS Iceplex. “We’ve had some good progress and have gotten back to what we need to be doing. We’ve had a good overview of some of the systems and we’re
excited to get going.”
Asked what the team is looking to accomplish after appearing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last year, the defenceman is eager to get back go forward.
“We want to build on last year and (fulfill) the common goal we have,” Trouba said. “It was important how to learn how hard it was to get there last year. It was something completely new for a lot of us, so getting that experience under our belt helps and when we do get back there, it will be a big help moving forward.
“It’s going to be hard to get back to where we were last year, but we know that.”
Trouba had seven goals and 22 points, and was third on the team with an average ice time of 23:18 in 65 regular-season games.
As for what he’s looking to improve on this year, the defenceman didn’t go into specifics, but knows he’ll counted upon even more here in his third season.
“I’ve never really looked into too many numbers and that kind of stuff,” he said. “I have areas of my game that I want to improve on. I’m going to take the opportunities as they come and be solid defensively.”
Neither Andrew Ladd nor Bryan Little took part in today’s practice, but according to Maurice, “there’s nothing significant” injury-wise.
— Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com