Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A Little insight into the Jets

Centre dishes juicy tidbits on what makes team tick

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THE stats and standings give you the simple black-and-white answers about the National Hockey League team this city has inherited.

We know the Winnipeg Jets are the youngest in the NHL, that they missed the playoffs last season, but were winning their division late last November. We know they finished 29th in goals against, 20th in goals for, sported the 12th-best power play and 27th-ranked penalty-kill unit.

We know Andrew Ladd led the team in scoring and Dustin Byfuglien topped all NHL defencemen in goals.

But to really understand this team -- to truly become acquainted with what makes it tick -- you need an inside source. You need a man who has been to war with these guys and seen them at their best and their worst, on and off the ice.

Ladies and gentlemen, playing that role for us today is centre Bryan Little, a guy who has been here in Winnipeg for over a week practising, training, playing a little golf and getting a feel for his new hockey address.

What follows is Little's scouting report, courtesy a quick Q & A conducted Tuesday at the MTS IcePlex:

Your description of this team:

"You're going to see a young and exciting team. We had some great games last year and we were fun to watch. You're going to see a lot of energy. We have three or four guys who are under 21 and so it's amazing how young we are and how much talent we have. Those young guys are going to keep getting better."

Biggest jokester/prankster

"It was (Eric) Boulton, but he's gone (to New Jersey). I'd say now it's (Dustin) Byfuglien, just because he's quiet about it. You don't really know it's him until months later when it comes up. He's behind the scenes about it."

Sharpest dresser

"(Alexander) Burmistrov's got good style for a young kid. I don't know if it's the European thing, but his go-to store is Hugo Boss so he's got pretty good taste.

Worst dresser

"Easy -- Jim Slater. He's got an assortment of what he thinks are cool, stylish hats, but they're hilarious."

Funniest guy

"Some of the Swedes are pretty funny. They're quiet and they keep to themselves. But (Tobias) Enstrom and (Johnny) Oduya, once in awhile they'll say something to you in broken English that is absolutely hilarious."

Toughest dude

"That's easy: Byfuglien. I mean, just look at the guy. You stand next to him and he's twice your size. You wouldn't want to say anything to him."

Best athlete on the team

"Definitely (Zach) Bogosian. I'm not sure what other sports he's good at, but as far as just being an athlete... last year he blew everyone out of the water in the fitness testing. He's only 19, but he looks like a man. We joke that he looks like he's 26."

Budding superstar

"There's a couple: (Evander) Kane is a huge talent for us. You forget how young he is sometimes when he's on the ice because he's so big and mature for his age. He's improved every season and I think he's going to keep improving. He could be a superstar in this league.

"It's the same thing with Burmistrov. He didn't put up huge numbers like Skinner last year, but you watch this guy in practice or warm-up and he's got unbelievable hands. He was only 18 last year and he's just going to keep improving."

The voice of reason

"The first name that comes to mind is Andrew Ladd. Even when we didn't have a captain for a bit last year everyone knew it was him, that he was the leader of this team. Any time a guy lost his cool on the bench or in the dressing room it was him that stepped in and said, 'Let's calm down and get it together guys.'"

Fastest skater

"Bogosian, again. We had a skills competition last year and he won pretty easily."

Hardest shot

"Byfuglien. I got hit by two of his shots last year. One was in the elbow and he dropped me and the other was in my foot and he chipped it. I'm watching out for him this year."

Finally, you've been here for a week or so. Give us your first impressions of Winnipeg:

"It's going to be a bit of a change for our team, especially coming from Atlanta where hockey wasn't even in the Top 5 sports, let alone the top sport in the city.

That's what I first saw when I got here: how pumped people are for the city and how much they are excited about the Jets.

"Some of the guys are coming in this week, which is a bit different. Everybody's just so excited for the season to start... you don't usually see this many guys coming in this far ahead of camp and it just shows how excited the players are for the season."

Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 31, 2011 C1

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