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Hoping small changes make big difference

Few additions to a non-playoff team

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A team that misses the Stanley Cup playoffs by eight points ought to tread very carefully when it considers the future with the status quo.

The Winnipeg Jets have walked a fine line there.

They don't have a lot of turnover from their 2011-12 roster but hope that some of the changes they've made will be in impact areas.

For starters, the Jets have added depth and experience to their coaching staff. Perry Pearn can now say he's been an assistant coach of Jets 1.0 and 2.0.

The two other most significant changes in terms of names are at forward as GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has signed centre Olli Jokinen, 34, and left-winger Alexei Ponikarovsky, 32.

Both bring size and mobility. Jokinen has turned himself into more of a committed two-way player without a drastic subtraction of offence. In fact, his numbers have risen two years in a row.

Ponikarovsky, 636 games into his NHL career, is now playing for his sixth team and his wealth of experience includes a trip to last spring's Cup final.

"I think it's the one thing we've got going for us," Jets head coach Claude Noel said Sunday. "Last year I stood up here and said there were going to be some adjustments coming here -- third coach in four years for some of them, different location, different schools, a whole different scenario for everybody.

"Our turnover has been minimal and they know what to expect from the fans, the city, the coach. There's not a lot of changes, some, a little bit, but not a lot."

Ponikarovsky said during Sunday's first day of training camp that some integration has to be on the to-do list, but it's not that complicated.

"I have to learn from scratch but I know what type of hockey this team plays," he said. "It's north-south. Aggressively. And you have to be responsible defensively right now."

Having spent 32 games (five goals, 18 points) with HC Donbass, the KHL team based in Donetsk, Ukraine, during the lockout, Ponikarovsky hopes that some of that newness will be offset by his game sharpness and conditioning heading into this shortened NHL season.

And that the NHL is not that diverse in terms of method.

"The whole league, every team I've been on, it's the same kind of mentality," Ponikarovsky said. "Everybody wants to win, everybody's pushing for it and everybody wants to get the best of you on the ice every game.

"I have to bring it on and fit with the team. All those little things are going to add up. But the most important thing will be work ethic."

Beyond known quantities, the Jets also have a few other pending changes that are less-known after one day of camp.

The team today has places for two or three defencemen, among them Paul Postma, Zach Redmond and Derek Meech, all of whom have been playing for the AHL's St. John's IceCaps.

Up front, junior-aged Mark Scheifele is back for a second crack at a full-time spot on the roster, while Spencer Machacek, who finished the season well here last year, and Maxime Macenauer -- who also played half a season with the IceCaps -- are trying to force their way into the lineup.

Macenauer, 24, has 29 games of NHL experience, having played last season with the Anaheim Ducks.

"Speed is a big part of my game," he said Sunday. "I'm a good two-way guy who is reliable defensively and can bring some offence as well.

"Since I've played pro that's been my main point, my versatility. Since I've turned pro I've really worked on my defence."

Meech's return to health gives the Jets their Winnipeg element, at least for camp.

His 2011-12 was marked by serious injury (knees) that limited him to 23 games.

What can he add?

"Just to be consistent defensively," Meech said. "If you can't be trusted to be out there defensively in your end, you're not any good to anybody. That's my first priority."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 14, 2013 C3

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