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Players still worried about low vacancy rate

Very few openings available on roster

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There are no promises or guarantees, but Winnipeg Jets’ head coach Claude Noel isn’t going to dance around the issue:

There aren’t a whole lot of vacancies on the Jets’ roster and very little time — seven games between now and Oct. 1 — to make a favourable impression.

"I never touch too much on rosters and what might be set," Noel said. "But we’re starting the season with some guys on the shelf injury-wise (including Eric Fehr) and there’s going to be a couple of spots open, potentially two or three, that guys can push for.

"The other thing that players can’t forget is their task here is really to impress the management staff and coaching staff in some fashion. We’ve got all eyes set on you, whether it’s in a month, a month-and-a-half, five months, a year, whatever.

"You may not start here, but if we see enough with you here and, for example, you go down to St. John’s and have a good couple of months, we’re going to make sure that door opens for you. That’s what a player can’t forget."

He hasn’t played a single game yet — not even a scrimmage — and yet Mark Scheifele still can’t stop grinning.

"The first practice is always a step up because you’re with older guys and more skilled players," said Scheifele. "It was definitely fast, but I loved it.

"I was very nervous. Me and my roommate Zach Redmond were getting the butterflies last night, so it was definitely a nerve-wracking moment, but once you get on the ice it all went away."

Scheifele got some solid advice from his junior coach in Barrie, Jets’ legend Dale Hawerchuk, who texted him this past week about just playing his game and working hard.

Now he’s out to accomplish what both Evander Kane and Alex Burmistrov did as 18-year-olds: crack the opening-day roster.

"He’s a smart player and you can see that just with the attention to detail he had in the drills," Kane said.

"He has a high skill level and a really good shot so I think he’s definitely got a good shot to make the team.

"It’s tough. It’s your first game, you’re playing against men and you don’t really know how things work. I think that’s the toughest adjustment you have to make coming from junior. We’re definitely going to help him and I’m sure he’ll figure it out pretty quick."

THE BRAIN TRUST: With coach Claude Noel and assistants Charlie Huddy, Pascal Vincent and goaltending coach Wade Flaherty on the ice, the rest of the Jets’ brass huddled in a corner perch overlooking the ice.

Owner Mark Chipman, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, assistant GM Craig Heisinger, scout Bruce Southern, director of team operations Ryan Bowness and St. John’s IceCaps coaches Keith McCambridge and Mark Morrison took in the action.

FAREWELL TO A FRIEND: Jets veteran forward Nik Antropov left the team Saturday after taking part in the club’s first skate to attend the funeral of Igor Korolev.

Korolev will be buried today in Toronto’s Mount Pleasant cemetery.

Antropov, who is expected back in camp on Monday, was Korolev’s teammate with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Korolev made his home in Toronto and leaves behind his wife and two daughters. The player was a member of the Russian Lokomotiv team and died when the club’s jet crashed on Sept. 7.

The entire team was killed, including coach and former Brandon Wheat Kings star Brad McCrimmon.

McCrimmon was laid to rest in a Detroit suburb on Saturday.

STILL TEEMU: Finnish sports writer Juha Hiitela is in Winnipeg for the opening days of Jets camp.

"There are 25 to 30 Finns in the NHL depending on who makes the big clubs," said Hiitela, who is based in Vancouver and writes for the newspaper Ilta-Santomat. "Teemu (Selanne) is still the biggest name in Finnish hockey. There was quite a fuss when he signed the other day. With the time change it was just before our deadline."

Hiitela expects to be back in Winnipeg when Selanne and the Ducks make their first visit on Dec. 17.

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca

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