THE Winnipeg Jets' youngsters will be in the spotlight in Belleville, Ont., tonight, with all of the Jets' last three first-rounders -- Mark Scheifele, Jacob Trouba, Josh Morrissey -- making the trip to face the Washington Capitals in a Kraft Hockeyville tilt. In a twist, the Caps announced they'd bring their big guns, including Alexander Ovechkin.
"I think the young players will be thrilled to play against him," Jets coach Claude Noel said.
Though the superstar presence may throw an extra challenge to the Jets' prospect group, Noel was nonplussed.
"We've got some guys in our lineup too who are good players," he said. "We'll deal with Ovechkin and their team."
Veteran winger Chris Thorburn, who is also on the roster for tonight's game, concurred with the chin-up assessment of leading a roster composed mainly of rookies against guys like Ovechkin, Karl Alzner and Nicklas Backstrom.
"That's all right, good challenge for us," he said. "We got a lot of young kids who are pretty excited to play."
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The full roster for tonight, composed of the Jets training camp Group A, includes NHL forwards Evander Kane, Devin Setoguchi, James Wright, Jim Slater, Thorburn and Eric Tangradi, rounded out by prospects Scheifele, Petan, J.C. Lipon, Austen Brassard, Scott Kosmachuk and John Albert. On the back end, Zachs Bogosian and Redmond will be the most veteran guys on a blue-line squad that includes Trouba and Morrissey, as well as St. John's IceCaps defenders Ben Chiarot and Julian Melchiori. Goaltending will be supplied by IceCaps starter Eddie Pasquale and 2013 draftee Eric Comrie.
The game kicks off at 6 p.m. on CBC, and will be broadcast on TSN 1290 Radio in Winnipeg.
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It's been 761 days since the Jets last played a pre-season game, what with last year's... unpleasantness. So what will Noel look for from his squad tonight?
"We try and make evaluations about who can think, who can make adjustments to their game if they're not familiar with the systems," he said. "I want to be able to see just what the players bring to the table."
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Hand it to Olli Jokinen: he slogged through a disappointing season last year, and now many Jets watchers expect Mark Scheifele to push past him on the depth chart. Still, the veteran centre voiced his support for the up 'n' comer after practice on Friday.
"We are all rooting for him, you know?" Jokinen said. "He's a great young player. We want him to take that step to be an NHL player. Hopefully things go well for him. A guy like him coming in the lineup, for us it's going to make our team better."