WINNIPEG Jets fans aren't the only ones excited about the club's pre-season debut at the MTS Centre tonight against the Ottawa Senators.
"It's awesome. And we're lucky -- our building is going to be sold out so it's going to be like a regular-season game," Jets forward Blake Wheeler said Saturday morning following practice at the MTS Centre.
"The guys who haven't had a chance yet to play here, they're going to have fun out there tomorrow night. It's pretty unique in that sense...We're really treated well here. It's a lot of fun to play a game and to play in front of these fans is a privilege. We need to treat it like that tomorrow night and come out and work hard for them."
With the Jets players divided into three groups for training camp, fans will only get to see about one-third of the players tonight.
But the expected lineup tonight will include the team's top line of Wheeler, Andrew Ladd and Bryan Little as well as veteran defencemen Paul Postma and Toby Enstrom.
The lineup was also supposed to include young prospect Adam Lowry, but he is an expected scratch after he missed practice for the third day in a row Saturday with an upper body injury sustained on the first day of camp when he fell heavily into the boards.
One prospect who will be playing is newly-signed defenceman Brenden Kichton, last season's defenceman of the year in the WHL, who will be making his NHL pre-season debut.
"It's going to be very exciting. I've never played in front of that many fans before -- and especially for my first exhibition game," said Kichton. "But it's what I've been training for and what I've been looking forward to these past couple years.
"It's a real dream come true."
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Wheeler was asked if he intended to watch Hockey Night in Canada Saturday night as some of his other teammates take on the Washington Capitals in a pre-season game in Belleville.
"What game tonight?" Wheeler joked. "I think there's some college football on, so I will probably be flipping back and forth a little bit. It might be a little too early to start zeroing in on hockey."
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With 18 defencemen in camp, Postma says it doesn't take a mathematician to figure out what those numbers mean.
"It makes it extremely competitive, that's for sure. You look at the number of roster spots and the number of players and they don't really add up. It makes for a good healthy competition.
"And down the stretch, when there's injuries and what-not, we're going to have the right number of guys. We have different kinds of defencemen too -- the stay-at-homes and the offensive. We've got a mix of everything that should make for a good group."
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Everyone would rather play than practise and Jets forward Olli Jokinen's Group C in Jets training camp drew the short straw in that regard.
The Group C Jets, which also include defenceman Dustin Byfuglien and goaltenders Al Montoya and Ondrej Pavelec, have the role of spectators this weekend as their Group A teammates play Saturday night in Belleville and Group B teammates play tonight at the MTS Centre.
Jokinen, Byfuglien et al won't get their chance to hit some people in anger until Tuesday night when most, if not all, the Group C players will finally get their chance in a pre-season game against the Edmonton Oilers at the MTS Centre.
"Obviously, everybody is looking to play a game," Jokinen said Saturday. "But you play when they tell you to play and you don't worry about things you can't control. We have 58 guys -- some play today, some play tomorrow, some play Tuesday.
"You go day by day. That's the only way to do it."