WINNIPEG – Danny Zhilkin is wearing a non-contact jersey in Winnipeg Jets development camp this week, but he wasn’t just standing off to the side during a 60-minute skate full of battle drills on Saturday.

He was right in the middle of it.

“I feel basically 100 percent. The non-contact is more precautionary,” said Zhilkin. “It’s summer so there is no need to rush anything. I feel good on the ice, there are no restrictions, there are no limitations. I feel great.”

His first pro season with the Manitoba Moose ended after 44 games due to a shoulder injury, with his last game coming on February 19, 2024. Surgery was required to fix up his shoulder, but while he wasn’t on the ice for the team’s second half surge to the Calder Cup Playoffs, he still learned a lot about the pro game.

“Just everyday habits,” he said. “You’re coming from junior where you’re not really focusing on habits. You’re having fun with your buddies and going out and playing. It’s not really a job yet. Here, it’s pro hockey and you’re battling for spots. You’re trying to make a career for yourself.”

The 20-year-old scored twice and finished with seven points in his first American Hockey League season, but next year the forward would love to see those numbers creep upward. He’s lit the lamp 23 times in 2021-22 with Guelph in the Ontario Hockey League, and followed that up with 29 goals combined with Guelph and Kitchener the following campaign.

He's confident in his ability to contribute offensively at the next level as well.

“I’m trying to work on my shot, my skills down low,” said Zhilkin. “I think I’m a pretty fast forward but I could use a little more agility down low and drive the net a little more. I think that would help my offensive game.”

Being healthy will go a long way toward Zhilkin improving in those areas. In fact, his previously injured side might be an asset by the time the puck drops next season.

“I think in some areas my injured side is actually stronger than my other side,” he said with a grin. “I’ve learned to just keep pushing. I’ve focused on a lot of areas on my body - not just my upper-body that I injured - and I feel stronger, faster, and more powerful than last year.”

Add in the fact he’ll have all those first-time experiences of being a pro out of the way, and Zhilkin is excited to get back to Winnipeg when camp opens in September.

“It’s starting to really feel like home now,” Zhilkin said of Winnipeg. “I’ve had a full season under my belt. You almost feel old seeing these young guys from the OHL and college come in. It’s good to be a leader, I love being a leader, and it’s good to see all the guys here.”