Josh Morrissey had a big smile on his face, even during the conditioning skate at the end of today's 75-minute practice at MTS Iceplex.
If he looked around the ice, he saw the same smile on the faces of Kyle Connor, Brandon Tanev, and Patrik Laine - all four of them are on the Winnipeg Jets roster.
"It's something I've wanted and set as a goal since I was a little kid to make the NHL. The work is just starting now," said Morrissey. "If you want to stay here, contribute, and be a big player for the team, you have to bring it every day and continue to improve as a young player."
Head coach Paul Maurice said there was no 'Welcome to the NHL' speech. Just a nod from across the ice, and a shared grin, before the next drill started with a whistle and a slap of the stick.
Video: PRACTICE | Josh Morrissey
"No matter how hard they're breathing, they're smiling, they're so happy to be here. The dream for a lot of them is to play in the NHL," said Maurice. "Today is the first day they thought 'I could be playing in the NHL this week' and the reality sets in. it was a really good practice by all four of them. They had a little extra jump in their step."
Morrissey, the 13th overall selection in the 2013 NHL Draft, got his first taste of NHL action last season, when he made his debut against the Montreal Canadiens. Maurice liked what he saw in Morrissey's 15:54 of ice time that night, and that continued into this year's training camp, and the six preseason games Morrissey played.
"He looks good. He's strong, he's fast, his pace is right," Maurice said. "He's always had the vision and the hands to move the puck well. Just physically it took him a while to be as strong as he needs to be to move as fast as he has to move to survive in this league."
Video: PRACTICE | Paul Maurice
Speaking of strong and fast, Maurice saw those qualities in Tanev during the three games the 24-year-old forward played at the end of last season. Tanev signed a one-year, two-way contract on July 21, and brought the same work ethic to training camp.
"What he does, we need. We've got some skill here now, he's got a different kind of skill - that speed, his tenacity on the forecheck," said Maurice. "You can find guys that can run around, but it's difficult to find guys that can run around and are really smart. He's got a great defensive stick."
Despite playing in those three games last season, Tanev didn't assume he had a spot on the roster. Instead, the former NCAA champion put in the work necessary to earn his spot.
"You can't take anything for granted," said Tanev. "You have to continue to work hard, have a good summer leading up to training camp and when you get to training camp just continue to push and continue to work, and continue to play like the player you are."
Maurice and his staff will now work to find the right spot for young forwards like Tanev, Connor, and Laine, while also finding the right partner for Morrissey on the blue line.
Video: PRACTICE | Kyle Connor
That process isn't a short one, but Maurice said the versatility of those players will be helpful.
"Who the player is today is going to be so much different two months from now and two months after that," said Maurice. "We're going to move these guys around a lot. I'll try and be sensitive to the chemistry that's needed in the end, but we need to get to know them.
"We're putting a lot of young men in our line up. We have faith in them, we're going to be patient with them, but we still have to learn about them too."