Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Little, Ladd and Wheeler tuning up for another productive campaign

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They carried the mail to most corners of their 48-game season in 2013, emerging with more first-line characteristics than ever before.

So how much more of a tune-up do Bryan Little and wingers Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler need before the new NHL season begins Tuesday in Edmonton?

The Jets have two games left on their eight-game pre-season schedule, tonight at the MTS Centre against the Boston Bruins and again against the B's Friday in Saskatoon?

So does the Jets' top line need both games? One? None?

Jets coach Claude Noel wasn't giving away any lineup choices after Wednesday's practice but there were opinions on the matter inside the dressing room.

"I think I'd probably rather play one," said Ladd, noting that the trio has been in three of the six exhibition games so far. "I liked the fact that our line, after not being very good the game before, was a lot better in Minny (last Saturday). So we're heading in the right direction, which is good, and another one like that and we'll be ready."

But it's not just as easy as that, the captain said.

"Now we don't have as many guys," he said, noting the roster is down to 24 skaters. "At least now we can focus on this group and getting everything ready, intact for the regular season."

Wheeler said last week he's ready to play at all times; it's that simple.

And Little on Wednesday wasn't far from that.

"Honestly, it doesn't matter," the centre said. "I'd be happy playing one. I'd be happy playing both. Last year we didn't play any; we just jumped right into it.

"I'll do what I'm told and try to make the best of it. I still think our line could do better, so maybe two would help more."

Last season, the trio, though not together 100 per cent of the time, combined for 44 goals and 119 points in the 48 games.

It was easily the most productive group iced by the Jets, so their readiness will be essential, though certainly not at the cost of overlooking everyone else.

"If it was my call, just one game's enough," Jets No. 1 goalie Ondrej Pavelec said, asked what his decision would be on the top line were it his to make. "We've played enough games already. That would be my call.

"But I would ask them how they feel. They're big guys; they know what it takes to be ready for the season."

Among others also trying to find their timing and some chemistry, left-winger Evander Kane said he wasn't going to wade into the possibilities about others.

"I can't really speak for other people," Kane said.

In his own case, looking to find a newer, more consistent groove, Kane said he is looking forward to these games against the Bruins.

"I'd like to play tomorrow and we'll see how I feel in terms of my body," he offered on Wednesday. "I'd like to play both. Don't want to sit in the stands. Never want to get used to that. There's a long enough break from the last exhibition game to Tuesday. We'll be fine.

"And a lot of us have been in separate groups (during training camp), so it'll be good to be together."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 26, 2013 D3

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Updated on Thursday, September 26, 2013 at 7:04 AM CDT: adds photo, changes headline

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