They've got some work to do on the results but some nights more than others -- and Thursday was one of those nights -- it's easy to see why NHL pre-season games are both good and necessary.
The Winnipeg Jets gave up a 2-1 third-period lead and lost 3-2 in overtime to the Boston Bruins at the MTS Centre, but front and centre for the home team was another glimpse into the future.
Prominent in mostly good ways were Jets centre Mark Scheifele and defenceman Jacob Trouba, the rookies who symbolize real change and real hope.
Trouba was named a game star for his 23 minutes 28 seconds of play and Scheifele gave the Jets a third-period go-ahead goal, his first of the pre-season.
"I thought that the guys that had a lot to prove tonight really showed that they tried to impress," Jets coach Claude Noel said later, meaning the rookies plus a few other players in battles for roster spots.
On Scheifele and his bid to be the team's second- or third-line centre this season, you can tell the coach is growing a little warmer.
"A little trouble early in the game, I thought," Noel said. "But I thought he played a lot better as the game went on.
"The goal was a relief for Mark, a big play at a key time for us. And he was better on faceoffs in the second and third and that was an area of concern for us."
Still, the Jets lost again in the exhibition round, now 1-3-3 in their seven outings, with the final one coming tonight against the Bruins in Saskatoon.
A different mark
Scheifele has been less flashy in this training camp than when he piled up points as a fresh draftee two Septembers ago.
And that's a good thing, if you see what matters.
"It's not about the points," he said after the game and his first goal in five pre-season games. "It's about being reliable defensively, winning faceoffs. It's about the team play. It's not about individual stats or about any of that.
"It's about helping the team win and doing the simple things. That's been my focus. I haven't focused on the points at all. That comes from playing a hard, simple game. It's about doing the simple things and working my hardest."
Scheifele's faceoff tally improved as the night went on, from two wins out of seven in the first to a final of seven out of 13.
And the chemistry with Thursday linemates Devin Setoguchi and James Wright was developing.
"Whoever I'm out with, I try to talk and pick their brain and see what kind of tendencies they have," Scheifele said.
Setoguchi, who also had his first goal of the pre-season, said he sees some progress with Scheifele.
"It's tough to tell," Setoguchi began. "I think he's doing a great job. Obviously he's got poise with the puck and he makes the right plays and he scored a big goal tonight.
"Still, it amps up when you get to the regular season but obviously he's been playing good."
After Scheifele put away his power-play goal, a fine hustle off the right wing to retrieve and deposit a dumped-in rebound off the backboard, the Bruins were back even in two minutes.
Ryan Spooner's point shot found the back of the net when the Scheifele line got pinned and then Loui Eriksson buried the winner in the extra period, converting a two-on-one.
The result didn't sit well with some on the home side.
"It's nice to get a goal obviously, but the main thing is to get the win," Setoguchi said, frowning.
The team's fourth-line combination still isn't clear, but the likes of centre Patrice Cormier, wingers Anthony Peluso and Chris Thorburn in particular helped themselves with their efforts.
"We'll see where it all shakes out, but I think they helped themselves," Noel said.