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Adding size weighty issue for Jets' Ehlers, Morrissey

by Patrick Williams

WINNIPEG -- The Winnipeg Jets have never strayed from their emphasis on youth and player development since general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff's arrival in 2011.

The potential rewards of Cheveldayoff's patience, including recent NHL Draft first-round picks in left wing Nikolaj Ehlers and defenseman Joshua Morrissey, headlined the Jets' annual development camp this week.

The next stage of development for Ehlers and Morrissey will involve more time in the workout room this summer.

The Jets selected Ehlers, 19, ninth in the 2014 draft, and he then had 37 goals and 64 assists in 51 games with the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Even though Halifax was eliminated in the second round of the QMJHL playoffs, Ehlers led playoff scorers with 10 goals and 21 assists in 14 games.

Versatile wing Michael Frolik left Winnipeg and signed with the Calgary Flames, and forwards Lee Stempniak and Jiri Tlusty are unrestricted free agents. The roster turnover could mean forward spots will be available at training camp in September, and Ehlers would have a good chance at one of those openings.

"It's going to be tough coming back here and trying to get that spot on the team," Ehlers said on Wednesday, the final day of development camp. "There is a lot of excitement, and I think that on the ice there are a lot of things I can improve on, and I'm going to try to do that this summer."

Before Ehlers competes for a job at training camp he will have to adjust, having gained 15 pounds. The Jets have stressed the need for Ehlers to bulk up without sacrificing the speed that has propelled his scoring. He will spend the rest of the summer in Denmark and Switzerland before heading to Winnipeg.

"It's pretty hard," Ehlers said of the process of gaining weight. "There are a lot of things that you have to look at, and you've got to be careful what you eat and how much you eat and [whether] you eat enough. The workouts as well. It's really tough. But it's exciting too. I want to make the next step, and that is part of the big step."

However, there have been some growing pains associated with Ehlers adding weight.

"[The weight gain affected me] a little bit,'" Ehlers said. '"It's going to take me some time to get used to playing and being on the ice. I'm not so worried about that. I'm going to [skate this summer]. I felt OK out there.

"I didn't feel great. I didn't think that I showed what I can do, but it's tough when there are [so many] other guys out there trying to do exactly the same. But I've got about two months to really focus on myself and get better and be able to improve and get my chance to play [this season]."

Morrissey turned 20 in March and will begin his first full pro season this fall in Winnipeg. The 13th pick in 2013, he began his final season in the Western Hockey League with the Prince Albert Raiders before a trade sent him to the Kelowna Rockets. Morrissey, who won a gold medal representing Canada at the World Junior Championship, had 13 goals and 25 assists in 47 regular-season games before helping the Rockets to the Memorial Cup final.

"It was a great [season]," Morrissey said. "I think I've improved a lot. My conditioning is a lot better now. I'm really committed to my diet, and overall I think it was a great [season] for me."

Ehlers will try to avoid a weight-gain problem that affected Morrissey at the start of last season. Morrissey's attempt at bulking up left him feeling slower on the ice. He lost an estimated 12 pounds, and most of it was not muscle.

"I've kind of changed the way I've been training," Morrissey said. "[This past] summer, it was all about gaining weight, gaining weight. I came into [training] camp, and I felt slow, I felt heavy. My body fat was not in the right spot. For anyone who has seen me play, the biggest thing is being able to be quick and fast.

"I just feel a lot better. I feel a lot better on the ice. I guess for me, that is kind of my mentality this summer."

Starting the season with the Jets' American Hockey League affiliate, the Manitoba Moose, is a possibility.

"It's going to come down to training camp," Morrissey said. "I don't think anything is set in stone until the final cuts are made and the season begins. It's going to be a battle throughout training camp."

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