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Young Trouba makes early bid for NHL's rookie award

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No one is suggesting the Winnipeg Jets alert the NHL's trophy engraver just yet, especially after such a teeny-tiny sample.

But if the ol' carver was watching the Jets' 5-4 opening-night win over the Edmonton Oilers Tuesday, you can bet he or she was jotting the name down as a reminder:

"T-R-O-U-B-A, J-A-C-O-B."

Yes, the Jets' young defenceman couldn't have authored a more dreamy NHL debut, what with him scoring his first career goal in his first career regular-season game, leading all players with 25:02 minutes of ice time, blocking four shots and being named the first star.

And while Trouba and the Jets went out of their way to downplay his performance on Wednesday -- "it's a long season," "got to manage expectations," "going to be highs and lows" -- it's interesting to note he went from being a 33-to-1 long shot in Vegas to win the Calder Trophy to 25-to-1 a day later.

"It was pretty fun," said Trouba upon the team's return to Winnipeg on Wednesday. "But looking back at it, the most important part is we got the win and that's something I'm probably going to remember most. It's pretty good to get a win in your first game.

"There were a couple of butterflies at the start, but after the first couple of shifts it was just another hockey game. The pre-season really helped me adjust. I got those kinks out. I'm still learning on the fly as we go and trying to pick up things and just trying to add to my game."

Working with Zach Bogosian on the Jets' No. 2 defence pairing, the 19-year-old Michigan product played in all situations and was on the ice in the game's dying seconds as the club sealed its first win of the new season.

Asked if he was surprised at the amount of ice time he got, Trouba gave another hint of the quiet confidence that has the Jets convinced he's ready to handle the adjustment from being a prospect to a pro.

"I'm thankful," he said with a shrug. "I'm happy I have their trust and it's something I have to keep earning. But it's something I'm used to, I'm used to playing those minutes. Hopefully I keep those minutes up."

The word most often tossed around to describe Trouba is "poise," especially with the puck on his stick. But on his goal he also took note that the Oilers were using a cross-seam pass in the neutral zone all night and when Taylor Hall was spinning around to feed a teammate, he jumped up to intercept it before beating netminder Devan Dubnyk with what he called a "knuckle-puck" shot.

"I thought he played great. He played with a lot of confidence and that was good to see," said Bogosian. "It's only one game, but it's good to see he's going in the right direction. He's a good player. He's here for a reason.

"I just told him to play his game. You don't want to throw a whole bunch of information at someone... I'm sure there was a lot running through his mind for his first game. My first game I was thinking about a lot of stuff, too. I thought he handled it extremely well."

"We didn't know what to expect but he played a really solid game," added coach Claude Noel. "He's got a lot of poise with the puck, he plays in straight lines, made some good decisions and pretty much carried over the pre-season into the regular season. I thought he might have jitters a bit, but he was excellent in the game."

But it's clear the Jets don't want Trouba to get a swelled head in the first week of October or become overwhelmed by all the praise coming his way. It's early. And it's worth noting that between games at the University of Michigan and for the United States at the world junior and IIHF world championships, he suited up for 51 games last season.

"What we have to keep in perspective is it's one game at a time, he's a young player," cautioned Noel. "So let's not heap all kinds of expectations on a young player. He's done well and we're happy for it."

Good point, that. Still, Tuesday's debut sure reads a heckuva lot better than a minus-3 night and a benching.

"It's definitely good for confidence," said Trouba. "I didn't really have too many doubts coming in... I feel like I can play at this level and I belong. It's just up to me to show that. I know the season isn't going to be perfect and I'm going to have down games and I'm going to have up games. I just have to stay level-headed and forget about yesterday. I can look back on it and it will be a memory."

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 3, 2013 D3

History

Updated on Thursday, October 3, 2013 at 6:50 AM CDT: Replaces photo, adds video

6:55 AM: Adds second video

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