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Jacob Trouba 'Looking Forward' to Winnipeg Return

Blueliner & Brendan Lemieux Face Jets for First Time as Rangers Open Three-Game Trip

by Michael Obernauer

Jacob Trouba was going over all the ways in which daily life is different since he moved to the big city. Some ways are big and some are small but either way there are a lot of them.

"New York, there's always so much going on, and you're in an apartment and there's a bunch of tall buildings everywhere," Trouba was saying on Monday. "I don't have a car here, that's a pretty big difference. Going to the grocery store, you walk to the grocery store."

Trouba summed it up in the context of the question he had been asked. "Winnipeg," he said, "is not that."

Over the course of the past 12 months the Rangers and the Jets came together on two separate trades that brought a pair of players from the NHL's smallest market to the biggest: first Brendan Lemieux at last year's trade deadline, then Trouba during last year's offseason. 
On Tuesday night, both players will make their return as Rangers to the place where they first broke into the National Hockey League.

There is far more history in the journey for Trouba, who was drafted ninth overall by Winnipeg in 2012 and played his first 408 NHL games as a Jet, although in fairness, between his time with the Jets and their AHL team, the Manitoba Moose -- the teams share a downtown rink -- Lemieux did put a combined 170 games under his own belt playing pro hockey in Winnipeg.

Trouba already has seen his former team once, but he said the nerves of facing them on Opening Night back in October were all about wanting his first game at Madison Square Garden as a Ranger to go well. (It did: He had a goal and two assists in a 6-4 Ranger win.) He said this return match was never a date he had circled on his calendar, and he has no preconceptions of how it's all going to go -- "I don't know, I've never done it before," he said -- only that he was excited to see some old friends in a familiar city.

"I'm excited; it'll be nice to go back," Trouba said. "Obviously a lot of years spent there, some good memories. So it'll be fun to go back there for the first time. I'm looking forward to it."

Both players had nothing but fond memories to share of their time in Winnipeg, a place where, in Trouba's words, "the people are very nice" -- a theory that may be put to the test inside Bell MTS Place on Tuesday night. The 25-year-old defenseman called that rink home for the first six seasons of his NHL career, coming sixth in the Calder Trophy voting as a rookie in 2013-14 and establishing himself as the years progressed as a pillar on the right side of the Jets' defense. None of that happened overnight, though, as Trouba himself recalled broadly when he was asked to reflect specifically upon his blue-line partnership with Josh Morrissey that grew over the course of three seasons in Winnipeg.

"It took time," Trouba said, "but once you get comfortable with (your teammates), knowing where they are and what their tendencies are, that's a big part of the game. There's the systems part, and then there's what guys like to do, and the reads that just kind of take some time to figure out what guys like to do and what they're comfortable with. That just takes some time to develop."

That's the kind of development that David Quinn believes he is witnessing in real time since he became Trouba's Coach back in July, and first had him on the ice in the fall. Trouba is one of six Rangers to have suited up in all 54 of the Blueshirts' games this season; he and his usual D partner, his longtime friend Brady Skjei, have combined for 14 goals and 55 points from the back end this season, and Trouba leads the Rangers playing 22:56 nightly.

"Without question, the last seven, eight months you can see his comfort level, his trust factor, all those things" on the rise, Quinn said. "I think he's certainly feeling a lot better playing for a new team, a new organization, in a new city.

"I'm looking forward to watching him (Tuesday) night. I think he's going to have a good game."

Lemieux, meanwhile, is closing in on the one-year anniversary of becoming a Ranger, a date he sees as worth celebrating -- "I was over the moon when I got traded," he said, and not because of what he was leaving behind but because of the opportunity he could see awaiting him in New York. Lemieux got into the lineup for 44 games for a Jets team that had Stanley Cup aspirations a season ago, averaging 7:25 on ice per game; following the Feb. 25 trade, he played in 19 of the Blueshirts' remaining 20 games and his ice time went up to nearly 13 minutes a night, a little less than where it is this season.

"Last year when I was traded, I was just kind of getting my feet wet," Lemieux said. "I wasn't playing as much and never really got an opportunity to play special teams. And then coming here I had a big huge opportunity, and I've been able to feel comfortable in the NHL, and realize what I knew all along but what I hadn't felt essentially, which was what it feels like to be a full-time, solidified kind of guy.

"I love being in New York; I was over the moon when I got traded and I'm happy to be here. But I'm thankful to the Jets organization for all that they did for me to help me further my career. … I'm just excited to go back and see some people, and then worry about getting two points."

Lemieux suspects he'll feel a touch of déjà vu when he suits up on Tuesday night: The dressing rooms for the Manitoba Moose and visiting NHL teams are side by side. Lemieux will walk those halls as a visiting Ranger on Tuesday, and when asked what he has liked most about his first year as a New Yorker, Lemieux responded, "There really isn't an aspect that I haven't enjoyed, just completely. New York City is the best city in the world, so it's hard to compare."

His teammate agreed. "My whole life I've never lived in a big city," Trouba said. "What do you compare New York to?"

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