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Jet a grizzled vet at age 20

Trouba plays, comports self like a 15-year veteran

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The fact Winnipeg Jets rookie defenceman Jacob Trouba is mature beyond his years cannot be camouflaged.

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

The fact Winnipeg Jets rookie defenceman Jacob Trouba is mature beyond his years cannot be camouflaged. Photo Store

Jacob Trouba has never been one to complicate things. He's not splitting the atom, after all, or being asked to give a dissertation on nuclear fusion to a room full of scientists.

So ask the Winnipeg Jets rookie defenceman about his first year in the bigs -- about the adjustment from college to pro hockey, or whether he's had a "Holy crap, I'm in the NHL" moment -- and his response has always been the same, right from the first day of training camp to a Sunday morning in March:

A shrug of the shoulders, a bemused grin and a quietly-confident answer that screams out, "What's the big deal? I belong here."

An example, which played out Sunday after an optional Jets' practice at MTS Centre prior to the team's departure for Denver...

Trouba, who joined the Jets after just one season at the University of Michigan and has been playing huge minutes all season as a 19-turned-20 year-old defenceman, is asked about the long NHL grind compared to the college campaign.

"The way the season has broken up so far has been kinda nice," Trouba said, shrugging and grinning. "I played 20 games and then was hurt for awhile, played 20 more and then had the Olympic break and then it'll be 20 more.

"It's still hockey. I get excited for it. It's not hard."

And that answer, in a nutshell, might just be the perfect description of Jacob Trouba. Yes, where Mark Scheifele -- the Jets' other rookie star -- is a hockey nerd who watches and studies every game he can, Trouba is the exact opposite.

He punches the clock every day, but when the skates and gear come off and the ball hat goes on, hockey is very often the last thing on his mind.

That, in part, might explain why any attempt to engage him in selling Monday's matchup with Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche as a showdown of Calder Trophy candidates was instantly felled in its tracks.

"I don't really follow too much what's going on," he said. "I get enough hockey when I'm at the rink, so when I go home I don't really watch too much of it. He's a good player. He's on some streak right now, I saw that, with points (the streak, FYI, ended Saturday night). Everybody knows he's a great player and he's someone you've got to be aware of when he's on the ice.

"But I don't really focus on (the Calder chatter) or worry about that too much. It is what it is. I just worry about the team and we're focussed on making the playoffs so that's what I'm focussed on."

All of this isn't to say Trouba hasn't experienced some lows in his rookie season. He called his latest stretch of play "a rough spot" but vowed he'll get through it ASAP. Part of that ability to handle all this comes from the influence of his roommate Zach Bogosian and his defensive partner, Mark Stuart, two vets who have set a standard for the young defenceman both on and off the ice.

And the rest, frankly, is pure natural ability combined with his confidence and personality -- a grizzled pro's outlook that takes many players years to arrive at and understand.

"Having the opportunity to be out on the ice with Jacob," said coach Paul Maurice, "there's just so many times in practice and in games where you see a glimpse of something and you say, 'Man, in a year he's going to do that. In two years he's going to get into that hole clean.'

"He's just got a wicked shot... you saw it (Saturday) where he just about dropped the goalie. There's just so many things in his game that he can do well. I'm not worried about any other parts that aren't quite there... that he'll grow in to.

"It's so hard to play in the NHL as a young, first-year defenceman," Maurice added. "But then to be a catalyst for a hockey team is really unusual. He's just been great to be around and I really enjoy watching him."

Maurice isn't alone there. And while Trouba likely won't get his name carved into the Calder Trophy this year, his spot among the Jets' elite is already set in stone.

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 10, 2014 C2

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