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He's got their attention

Late-bloomer Lipon has IceCaps, Jets taking notice of maturity

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Forward J.C. Lipon's quickness and edge on the ice have impressed the IceCaps in ways his stats may not reflect.

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Forward J.C. Lipon's quickness and edge on the ice have impressed the IceCaps in ways his stats may not reflect.

St. John's IceCaps coach Keith McCambridge says he has a lot of time for right-winger J.C. Lipon.

This is not because the 20-year-old Regina native is a hot, top draft pick or a consensus can't-miss prospect. Nor is it about his modest numbers so far, four goals and 12 points in 26 games.

The factors that have won McCambridge's favour are, not without coincidence, the same items that have put Lipon on the Winnipeg Jets' radar: quickness, a game with edge and showing a fairly rapid grasp of the priorities for being an effective pro player.

That these things have come to the forefront before the halfway point of Lipon's first season out of junior suggests he'll be worth keeping track of.

"The development camp in the summer? Not a fair assessment," McCambridge said last weekend in Toronto when his IceCaps were playing the Marlies. "I looked at (the rookie tournament in) Penticton and I was impressed. The first thing that jumps out with J.C. is look at his numbers and you think this is going to be a skilled perimeter player. He's skilled but he's not perimeter at all.

'He plays with an edge. He really pushes the envelope and he's a pain to play against. He's able to play that way, get there and be hard to play against on forechecks because of his quickness'

-- IceCaps coach Keith McCambridge on J.C. Lipon

"He plays with an edge. He really pushes the envelope and he's a pain to play against. He's able to play that way, get there and be hard to play against on forechecks because of his quickness.

"His straight-line speed is good but his first three steps? I'd categorize him as a quick player."

Quick, too, in navigating the how-to-play puzzle that can challenge a lot of rookies.

"He seems mature, for a player coming just out of junior," McCambridge said. "Now a third into our season, there hasn't been as long a learning curve as you'd expect."

Over the first few weeks of the AHL season, Lipon caught on quickly. But then came a bump in the road.

"There was a lot of opportunity for me and maybe I took a little bit of advantage in that," he said. "I got put out in certain situations and maybe you don't understand that you're really getting an opportunity.

"I took a few steps back and now I think I'm playing pretty good and pretty consistent. I'd say the last 12 games or so I really like how I've played and I'm learning lots and thinking the game out a little better."

The steps back weren't catastrophic and McCambridge said a sit-down with the third-round draft pick last summer was fruitful.

"I'm a big believer in watching and not playing my cards right away," McCambridge said. "I like to watch, read, see what the player's about, talk to my assistant coaches and see what they're hearing.

"With J.C., all was good. His work ethic is strong, which is a huge foundation for me. Our sit-down was just about the way he needs to play, to be a guy who adds speed to our lineup, which is a huge factor in today's game, and a guy who will earn his opportunity through trust from the coach."

In particular, McCambridge likes how Lipon is earning his spurs.

"He's earned the opportunity to be on both special teams," the coach said. "Realizing that it takes time to earn the respect of the coaching staff. I hate to overuse that old-school term, but there's no entitlement. He wants to earn his minutes and his opportunities."

With 36 goals and 89 points in Kamloops last season in the WHL, to go along with 115 penalty minutes, Lipon was drafted after being passed over in 2012.

"I guess just last year I found my way," he said. "It's been a matter of when there's a setback, overcoming it. I've dealt with a lot of setbacks like being passed over and have had limited ice time in the past. So it's been working your way up and it's been my goal to be working hard and developing every summer.

"Now, I guess when good things start happening, you really want good things to continue happening," he said.

JETCETERA: Wednesday, the Jets re-assigned forward John Albert to the IceCaps. Albert played eight games in his first NHL recall and recorded his first NHL goal. The move is likely setting the stage for the reactivation of defenceman Zach Bogosian for Friday.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 19, 2013 D2

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