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Laine, Connor aim to play in Jets season opener against Rangers

Forwards declare themselves ready after missing camp as restricted free agents

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / Staff Writer

WINNIPEG -- Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor said they expect to play when the Winnipeg Jets open their season against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; MSG, TSN3, NHL.TV).

The forwards missed training camp as restricted free agents. Laine agreed to a two-year, $13.5 million contract on Friday; Connor signed a seven-year, $50 million contract Saturday.

"I'm feeling good," said Laine, who worked out with SC Bern in Switzerland during contract talks. "Health-wise, I'm 100 percent and hopefully ready to play on Thursday, which I will be."

Connor had 66 points (34 goals, 32 assists) in 82 games last season. The 22-year-old said his summer training has him ready for the season despite missing training camp.

"I had a great offseason," said Connor, who worked out with the University of Michigan. "A lot of weight training and skating. I just worked on getting better all-around. My game, speed, strength and all of the little things that have made me successful.

"[I want to] definitely take advantage of these two practices (Tuesday and Wednesday). You can't really emulate a pro training camp, but I feel like I did enough this summer and I'm ready to go."

Video: Laine, Jets agree to two-year, $13.5 million deal

Laine scored 30 goals last season, down from 44 in 2017-18, but the 21-year-old forward said Monday he was dealing with back and groin issues when the Jets were eliminated by the St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference First Round last season. He said he's confident he can again be the player he was two seasons ago.

"I'm going to score a lot of goals, that's for sure," Laine said. "I've always trusted myself and this is no exception. I'm going to be betting on myself in these two years."

Laine said the focus of his offseason was to skate more and earlier, and to continue improvements in his 200-foot game. He scored five goals in 34 games after the 2019 Honda NHL All-Star Weekend.

"I need consistency," he said. "I've focused more on my 5-on-5 play, and that's something I've got to focus on when the season starts on Thursday. I think just be hard on pucks, get all the pucks deep, play smart with the puck, like on top of the blue lines ... not that many turnovers and just be hard on forecheck and obviously play better defense.

"Like you saw last year, the plus-minus was pretty terrible (minus-24), so I've got to do better in that section too. But it's always a new challenge and I'm up for it and I'll be real good this year."

Those elements were part of the discussion Laine had with Jets coach Paul Maurice, who traveled to Finland in the offseason to meet with him.

"Yeah, it was a great move from him to come over there and talk and talk about last year and talk about the future," Laine said. "I had great talks with him. We both want to be better. It's a different team this year, but we'll be good when the season starts. It was great meeting and it was a lot of fun."

Video: Kyle Connor agrees to seven-year deal with the Jets

Laine, who appeared to express frustration with his linemates in comments published in a Finnish newspaper two weeks ago, said his thoughts were not reported correctly.

"I'm not going to try to explain it here," he said. "That's something that happened and there were things I didn't say and there were some wrong conclusions. I didn't mention anybody by name. (The writer) made his own conclusions. Stuff like that happens. You've got to move on and those are my comments on that."

The Jets will start the season with several changes on defense after the departures of unrestricted free agents Tyler Myers (Vancouver Canucks) and Ben Chiarot (Montreal Canadiens), the trade of Jacob Trouba to the Rangers on June 17 and Dustin Byfuglien's request for a leave of absence at the start of training camp.

Laine said he found a positive in the roster turnover.

"Now there's spots for young guys to fill, a lot of big shoes to fill," he said. "But I think our young guys are ready for the challenge. So, somebody needs to step up and we have so much talent on this team, we'll have guys who step up and build their game and we'll be better this year. Hopefully we can go further than last year, and I think we have a really good chance to do that."

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