Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Ex-coach bullish on new Jet Gregoire

Short on flashiness, long on gritty play

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LOCAL player, local team. Apart from superstar signings, nothing better to get the fans stirred up, and the Winnipeg Jets got the ball rolling with the start of the NHL's free agency period.

First it was defenceman Derek Meech, who signed on July 1. Meech, 27, has played 126 NHL games so far and has been a pro since 2004, placing him nearer the veteran side of things. On Friday, it was a deal with Washington for Winkler's Eric Fehr.

In between, the Jets rolled out a small surprise, winning the sweepstakes on 22-year-old free agent Jason Gregoire, who was able to make himself available to the best NHL bidder via his premature departure from the University of North Dakota this spring.

The Islanders drafted Gregoire in 2007 but by leaving school early, he was no longer obligated to that NHL team.

Polished, mature and capable 22-year-old players who are free agents are not that common, so it was no surprise multiple teams were on the case.

The Jets have landed Gregoire, but what did they get?

One person well-versed in the left-winger's abilities is his UND Fighting Sioux coach Dave Hakstol, who told the Free Press on Thursday Gregoire is ready to take the step to the pro game.

We also asked Hakstol if Gregoire was worth the hype.

"My first intention is always to do things in an understated way," the UND coach said. "That's truly the way Jason goes about his business, very understated.

"At times, I think in our league he was maybe by some undereducated hockey persons maybe a bit underappreciated. But by his teammates, his coaches and good hockey people, I think everybody understands that he's a complete player. He's a very competitive player and the package you get as a person is equal to the parts you get as a player.

"I think he's going to be a real, good, solid part of the Jets organization. How quickly he can make that step, well, I know he's ready to challenge for a spot to play in the NHL but time will tell how quickly he's ready to establish that type of a position."

The reason Gregoire may be underappreciated is he is less flashy than other top players.

"But he's very accountable and so very reliable," Hakstol said. "He's so good in the little areas of the game that I think are important at the NHL level."

In particular for the season just completed, Gregoire was deceptively good. In his own WCHA conference stats, which eliminates some of the fluff stats/opponents some teams get, Gregoire was second only to teammate and national goal-scoring leader Matt Frattin in goals per game.

And Gregoire's 25 goals made him just the fifth player at UND in the last 10 years to reach that mark (joining Frattin, Hobey Baker award-winner Ryan Duncan, Zach Parise and Brandon Bochenski). And Gregoire did that missing eight games due to injury.

Is Gregoire in the upper class, Hakstol was asked?

"Every player is so different," he said. "Without comparing him to one specific player, he has the approach, the professionalism and the consistency and in some cases some of the abilities of some of the top players who have come through our program in the last few years."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 9, 2011 C2

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