WINNIPEG - Some of Winnipeg's young NHL prospects have been getting a lot of ice time during the pre-season but things look to get a little tighter as the week progresses, coach Paul Maurice said Monday.
"Our younger players especially, or those guys that are fighting for spots, now have to do something to get back into the lineup," he said as the team prepared to leave for Edmonton for the first three pre-season games this week.
"There's just not many spots. We've got to get some of our lines and our deep pairings together."
For some young rookies, the ride up til now has been pretty sweet.
"It's a good opportunity and I'm pretty excited to keep playing," said Adam Lowry of the St. John's IceCaps, the Jets AHL farm team, who hasn't missed a pre-season game yet.
The six-foot-five forward, who plays both centre and wing, looks about the most comfortable of any of the rookies on the ice, likely because of that last season spent in the AHL.
"Yeah, I think last year was huge in just allowing me to get comfortable playing the pro game," he said.
Nik Ehlers, Nic Petan and Josh Morrissey also have survived the rookie cuts and are continuing to see plenty of action.
"I'm definitely enjoying it for sure, playing in front of these crowds is amazing," said Ehlers, 18, Winnipeg's 1st round pick in the 2014 NHL entry draft.
He admits he's found the learning curve steep.
"Obviously it's really hard here," he said. "I'm progressing pretty good right now from game to game and that's what I wanted, so I'm happy with that."
It also doesn't hurt their chances for more ice time that minor injuries have taken a toll.
"After tonight we're still going to have four or five guys out with injuries," head coach Paul Maurice said as the team prepared to head to Edmonton for the first of three games this week.
And he's keeping other veterans out of the lineup as well.
"There will be two or three veteran guys that just don't need to be out there every night. Toby Enstrom is the kind of guy that probably falls into that category."
Enstrom was on the list of players not in the lineup for Edmonton that also included Bryan Little, Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien, Evander Kane, Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler and Zach Bogosian.
On the injured list, the most serious is likely the eye injury suffered by off-season acquisition TJ Galiardi that required surgery to repair a torn retina.
He says he was worried initially he might lose the sight in his left eye, which was cut by a stick that slipped under his visor during practice. He says the eye is healing and he hopes to be cleared to at least start working out soon.
"Obviously I want to get out there as soon as I can but it's all dependent on how the eye is doing," he said
"It's pretty crazy how quickly the body heals. A couple of days ago I couldn't open my eye at all and now I've got (it) about 60 per cent open . . . but I'm just grateful I can see and will be healthy."
Maurice says the young players who remain are there for a reason and some of it isn't just because of what they've done this month.
"There is as reward for work done in the past, even if it's not with the Jets," said the coach. "If you get drafted in the first round, there's a reason for that."
But he says the four also have stuck around because they've earned the right.
"They've played well. I want to see them play. I like taking a real young lineup into Edmonton tonight."
He says he still hasn't made final decisions about his opening lineup for the regular season, although he has a pretty good idea what it will be.
"As a coach I've got my lineup three days before camp starts, in my head, and then you watch and learn and see what the young players, the new players, have brought to your lineup and who steals roles.
"So, if you're asking me today, could I put a lineup on the board for opening night? Yes I could, but it's certainly not final and that's what the rest of these exhibition games are for."