PENTICTON, B.C. -- Summer's hiatus from hard-core hockey -- especially making nice and making friends at development camp -- gives way this week to reality as the Winnipeg Jets ready a group of prospects for a five-team tournament in B.C.'s interior.
Nothing over the next four days is going to determine who will be part of the Jets roster when the NHL's regular season begins Oct. 1 but it's a lot more important for some than others.
First-round draft picks Mark Scheifele (2011) and Jacob Trouba (2012), for instance, will participate in this Vancouver Canucks Young Stars tournament, and given their projected fits on the Jets' main roster, they are expected to look pretty good this week.
But these three games will be but a minor part of the decision on how much the Jets will put on their shoulders come October.
Likewise, some of the team's draft picks such as 2013 first-rounder Josh Morrissey, Nic Petan, Eric Comrie, Jimmy Lodge and 2012 picks Scott Kosmachuk and Ryan Olsen all have junior eligibility remaining. The Jets' brass would like to see something from all of them but there is not massive pressure on those players to be NHL players next week.
Urgency, however, begins rather immediately for a group of new pros, including Adam Lowry, Lukas Sutter, Brenden Kitchon and J.C. Lipon. Their junior days are up and qualities and assets need to be seen now.
Lowry, in particular, is one to monitor.
The 20-year-old centre was last year's WHL player of the year after putting up 45 goals and 88 points with the Swift Current Broncos, leading to a contract with the Jets in the spring. His growth in size, to 6-5, and the development of his game, have opened some intriguing possibilities for the future, to the point where some in Jets' management hope he's a lot closer to being an NHLer than many suspect.
"Going in as a young guy, you don't have many expectations," Lowry said about gearing up for his first pro season. "You're trying to leave a good impression and there's not a whole lot of pressure.
"You know you're going to be returned to your junior team after the camp. Now being signed, you start to put a little pressure on yourself, show Chevy (GM Kevin Cheveldayoff) that you're continuing to develop and you're not taking for granted being signed. I definitely want to leave a good impression so that when I come into main camp, I'm at full stride and able to keep up with those guys."
Lowry said the growth in his offence last season in the WHL, from 12 to 45 goals, does not mean he's simply turned into an offensive player.
"More of a two-way player," Lowry said. "I was fortunate this year, played with a couple of good linemates and I got a lot of points from fortunate bounces.
"But as player I'm more successful when I play both ends of the rink. I've always been comfortable with how I've thought the game and with my decision-making but as I've matured in the last couple of years, my offence has rounded out.
"I'm not just a pure offensive guy but that part of my game is continuing to develop and improve."
A hint as to his state of mind going forward might be telling.
"Coming into this one, I definitely want to chip in, be a key, go-to guy," he said.
Heading into this tournament, Cheveldayoff said the evaluation process is again underway in earnest and cautioned that it's not all for some players and nothing for others.
"I wouldn't overemphasize anything but I wouldn't minimize anything," he said. "From our perspective, we approach each day with an open mind and you hope to be surprised or wowed or certainly that someone jumps out at you.
"That's kind of the process. This tournament for Mark Scheifele two years ago was fabulous and it led to him having a comfort level in our organization as to where he was."
The organization's new pros will have most eyes on them this week but Cheveldayoff didn't want to heap on the pressure.
"It's an important exercise for them but it's more than an exercise," he said. "It's a start to evaluation, preparedness. Any time they're stepping on the ice now, it's important. Having said that, what they do in Penticton isn't make or break. It's all part of the process.
"I don't know that there's a make-or-break point for anybody in this situation. But at the end of the day, it's still exhibition season. It's part of fine-tuning your game but you should always be trying to make an impression."
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