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Getting a Fehr chance

Forward needs to get it going

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His offensive numbers have been abysmal and his confidence is in tatters.

That said, there is this consensus on Eric Fehr as he slides into Chris Thorburn's spot on the Winnipeg Jets' checking trio alongside Jim Slater and Tanner Glass:

The Winkler product is a likable guy who is respected by his teammates. He has continued to bust his hump -- first on the ice, among the last off -- while being regularly scratched from the starting lineup. He's got a good shot and a deft finish around the net.

But there's also an underlying sense that this next stint -- beginning Wednesday against the Dallas Stars and possibly lasting to the end of the season as Thorburn recovers -- could also be a referendum on his future in Jets colours.

Now, it should be made clear not one single member of the Jets brass has come out and said that directly. But when a big guy with a history of scoring -- he twice topped the 50-goal mark with the Brandon Wheat Kings and had 21 with the Washington Capitals two years ago -- has just one in 33 games this season, even after recovering from shoulder surgery, well, let's just say patience is in short supply.

A sample: asked Monday what of Fehr's skillset made him a good fit on the GST line, head coach Claude Noel didn't dance around the question:

"I don't think there's necessarily a fit there. He's earned the opportunity because he's here. He's not a checking type of player, he's more of a scoring-finishing type of player. But that's where the door opens so that's why I'm giving him the opportunity to get into the lineup and get minutes.

"Now he needs to look at that and say 'Well, I gotta find my way to get from the third-fourth line to a more prominent role. That's been his challenge the whole year here. He's more of a Top 9, maybe Top-6 player with the way he finishes and the way he plays. But he's got to figure that out. I'm not going to give him an automatic berth into the Top 6.

"If he plays better, he'll play."

This message, for those who have been following the Jets closely this season, isn't new. In fact, it's become a bit of a broken record as Fehr was put into the lineup -- and then pulled again -- in an effort to help him find his game. Oh sure, it's true the organization traded for Fehr knowing he'd need time to strengthen the shoulders that have both been operated on and that he may need another summer and a full training camp before he should be properly evaluated again.

Still, even given all that benefit of the doubt, his two points in 33 games doesn't exactly scream out 'sniper.'

"For me, it's show me some signs that you can create offence or you want the puck or you're prepared to get to the net," Noel said. "A lot of it's through will, that's what I look for."

Both Glass and Slater, not surprisingly, raved about Fehr's work following their first practice together on Monday. Again, he's a good guy who has many friends in the room.

"It's going to be tough to replace Thorby, but Fehrsie's more than capable of stepping in and helping us out," said Slater.

"He's a skilled player, he can make some plays and he can get dirty as well."

"Fehrsie's kind of a GST-line fan," added Glass with a grin. "He knows what's going on with our line. He knows the kind of style we play and the things we do. He's got a great shot. He's got a nose for the net. Today he was getting open and finding the back of the net a lot, so he'll bring an offensive element to our line."

At least, that's the hope. The evidence, after all, has been in short supply this winter. And while Fehr's body of work over the last few years has been solid, the Jets want him to pen a juicy new chapter... ASAP.

"It's been pretty tough. Confidence is not an easy thing to get," Fehr admitted Monday.

"I've got to try and find a way to get confidence whether it's five minutes (of playing time), 10 minutes, 15... and try and play a skill game.

"It's easy to get pucks in and pucks out, but I have to try and contribute in the offensive side of things."

The Jets would take that, of course. But they also want more consistency, more oomph from Fehr. In the words of Yoda, the little green Jedi master from Star Wars: "Do or do not. There is no try."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 13, 2012 D3

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