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Maurice puts prospects through the paces

by Mitchell Clinton (@MClinton007) / Winnipeg Jets

WINNIPEG -- After the prospects worked overtime in Tuesday night's scrimmage, any thoughts of an easier Wednesday practice went out the window when Paul Maurice stepped on the ice.

Maurice, along with assistant coaches Charlie Huddy and Jamie Kompon, have been watching all the ice sessions this week. But their presence on the ice gave today's 90-minute skate a different feel.

"Whenever he's on the ice he's obviously a great leader, not just coach. He has a great way with words," said forward Brendan Lemieux. "He's always reminding you what you're doing, and why you're doing it."

That reason? Pace. Lemieux said Maurice's reasoning for that was simple.

"The reason we're skating hard, the reason I'm bagging you guys is because I need to get you guys ready for camp," Lemieux said. "Blake Wheeler is going to be pushing the pace, and somebody is going to be pushing him in a game. You guys better be ready to push with those guys."

Maurice is a big fan of how Jimmy Roy and Mike Keane (who lead the Winnipeg Jets' Player Development department) set up the week. He describes it as detailed and a great experience for young players as they prepare for training camp.

But he added that training camp is where evaluations will take place. Not so much here.

"You can run drills and you can run practice - and it's July, so you've got guys that have spent most of the time in the gym - but I'm looking for each of these players to show the Winnipeg Jets what they're good at," said Maurice. "I want to see their strength here. I understand they won't be at their A-game. If they're a skater, I want to see them skate. If they're a playmaker I want them to try and make plays.

"A good development camp doesn't put you on the Winnipeg Jets or the Manitoba Moose."

The 20-year-old Lemieux has been one of those players pending a lot of time in the gym. He says that, along with his experience at previous development camps, allows him to control his expectations going into the week.

"You're training (for) power and you're trying to put out speed. It'll come, and you know that," said Lemieux. "So you're getting a feel for where you're going to be and you're starting to see improvements already in strength. I definitely feel that I've been coming along really well, so I'm happy where I'm at."

After he got his first taste of professional hockey late last season, Lemieux is eager to get to training camp. In five games with the Manitoba Moose, the left winger scored twice and added an assist.

"You learn a lot playing pro, and you learn it fast. You learn about the pace and you come to understand that it's still hockey," said Lemieux. "It's important to bring what you bring to the table, just like it is here.

"(I'm) definitely excited for camp."

COOL AND CONFIDENT

Brendan Lemieux isn't the only skater with pro experience at this week's camp. He's one of six players who played with the Manitoba Moose last season, including Jan Kostalek, Axel Blomqvist, Jiri Fronk, Jimmy Lodge, and Jansen Harkins.

This is the second time through Winnipeg Jets development camp for Harkins, who was selected in the second round of the 2015 NHL Draft.

"I definitely have more confidence now. Being a year later and a year older, and going through it one time before definitely helps me," said Harkins. "I just want to continue to get better every day. I think have a short term mind set for this, and try to have fun with it as much as I can and enjoy the guys."

Coordinator of Player Development, Jimmy Roy, says Harkins is one of a number of prospects from that 2015 Draft that has shown a lot of growth since last year.

"It's impressive to see the development from where they were in school or major junior, all kids, to see where they are now," he said. "(They) come back with a little more strength, come back with a little more confidence, a little more maturity - all those things that help develop a player and prepare them for pro hockey."

Harkins got a taste of pro hockey late in the 2015-2016 season after finishing his season with the Prince George Cougars with 57 points in 69 games. In his six games with the Manitoba Moose, Harkins notched his first professional goal, and added a couple of assists.

Now with only one skate left in this week's development camp at MTS Iceplex, Harkins allowed himself to break from his short-term, day-to-day focus, to reflect on his week.

"It's been really fun. The guys have been great, and the coaching staff, and everyone that has been helping out has been on top of everything," he said. "They really push you to try and get everything out of you as you can. For me, I think I'm just putting everything into it, and hopefully it will work out well."

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