Bryan Little has known only one National Hockey League organization since first hearing his name called at the 2006 NHL Draft.
And he wanted to keep it that way.
The Winnipeg Jets announced Monday afternoon they have signed the 25-year-old centre — drafted 12th overall by the Atlanta Thrashers seven years ago — to a new five-year deal worth $23.5 million.
"It’s something we talked about right away… I kinda wanted to stay in Winnipeg. I’ve been part of that organization since I was drafted," said Little Monday in a conference call. "Even though we moved to Winnipeg in the last couple of years it was something I wanted to be a part of still. It wasn’t hard for me. I’ve been through a lot of rough times in Atlanta, but I think this organization’s best days are ahead of them in the very near future.
"I wanted to stay to be a part of that. It wasn’t really hard for me to make the decision to stay with Winnipeg for a long time.
A restricted free agent, Little was scheduled to go to arbitration on Wednesday if a new contract hadn’t been hammered out in advance.
"It was a bit different than the last time I signed a contract. I wasn’t used to the whole procedure with filing for arbitration and I think at the end of the day it wasn’t a place us or the team wanted to go to," Little said Monday. "We were kind of hoping for more of a long-term deal. I was pretty confident it would get done before arbitration, so I’m glad it did."
Little centres the team’s No. 1 line with Andrew Ladd on the left and Blake Wheeler on the right. He had seven goals and 25 assists in 48 games last year and has proven to be a versatile two-way forward who has also played on the right side. In 404 career games with the Thrashers and Jets, the Edmonton native has 99 goals and 128 assists.
The Jets have two significant restricted free agents also headed for arbitration in the next week: Wheeler and defenceman Zach Bogosian.