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Striving to make a good impression

Postma, O'Dell try to shine for evaluations

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Another re-evaluation of the Winnipeg Jets is underway and difficult decisions aren't far off.

To wit: How will the team upgrade or improve its forward group? And which defencemen will return to form next season's core group of blueliners?

Several players who will finish the season on the injured list are among those on the bubble -- the likes of pending free agents Keaton Ellerby, James Wright and Chris Thorburn. Maybe even goalie Al Montoya.

Some still in the lineup who are in jeopardy have a lengthy body of work, such that two more games -- tonight at home against the Boston Bruins and Friday visiting the Calgary Flames -- might not matter that much.

Still others continue to play, trying to move the needle.

Count among them defenceman Paul Postma, who has a contract for next season, and centre Eric O'Dell, who's a restricted free agent as of July 1.

Postma, 25, has missed the majority of the season due to injury but has finally seen some regular duty near the end of this out-of-the-playoffs year, still looking to get his foot in the door as a regular in the organization.

He said Wednesday his every move late in this season is important.

"Personally for me, I'm trying to build confidence for next year," Postma said on the eve of just his 19th game of the season. "We have some injuries right now, so decisions are going to have to be made over the summer for next year.

"Some tough decisions to make. Obviously, I want to put a stamp on what kind of player I am right now for them looking into the future."

Since Zach Bogosian went out of the lineup two weeks ago with an injury, Postma has become Toby Enstrom's new regular partner and played about 20 minutes a night, the most work he's seen all year.

He sees the pairing as a good signal.

"Absolutely. I can learn a lot from Toby," he said. "I think we've been playing pretty well together against some other teams' top lines, and we haven't really given anything much offensively. I think we've done a pretty good job."

Postma isn't just trying to crack the lineup, he's trying to show the Jets he's capable of more.

"I've been playing pretty well lately, I think," he said. "It's nice playing with Toby. Personally, I don't think I'm a 5-6 D man. I can't play that style, the physical, meat-and-potatoes kind of style.

"I like playing against the more skilled guys with more speed. That's more my game. The more I play, the more confident I get and the better I feel. The role I've been playing lately suits me more and my game, and if I can do that, I'll be a lot more successful."

The Jets would seem to have two pretty good centres in Bryan Little and Mark Scheifele, and O'Dell, 23, is pushing into consideration for the No. 3 job next season, a slot full of unknowns at this stage.

"Every time I step on the ice I'm trying to work my hardest," O'Dell said Wednesday. "I know he (coach Paul Maurice) is watching. Today, I could see him in these drills seeing who could keep up and who's out of shape and who's going.

"It's an audition for next year. We're trying to crack the lineup for next year, show him what we've got. Even these last two games are pretty big and I know the team hasn't given up. I know we're not in the playoffs, but we're going to be working pretty hard, especially for the young guys."

When O'Dell was first recalled this season in December, and all the way through to early March, he was used a bit player, only once exceeding 10 minutes in his first 16 appearances.

But lately, with Scheifele out, he has been given a chance to skate with better linemates, regularly seeing 14 minutes a night, and more since mid-March.

"I feel like the last few games, our line's been doing awesome, creating chances, and I think that Paul is getting more confidence in our line," O'Dell said, entering tonight's game with three goals and even points. "We've been playing more minutes.

"It was kind of tough at the start, playing a different role than I'm used to. I knew I was going to get a chance to play with some more of the skilled players, and the good thing is that I'm sticking with them, still playing with the top lines. I guess he's got some trust in me and likes what he sees."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 10, 2014 D4

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