It's right there in black and white in the National Hockey League's coaches' handbook:
Don't gush too early and too much about rookies until the real bullets start flying.
And so it was late Thursday -- not long after the Boston Bruins' 3-2 overtime victory over the Winnipeg Jets -- when Claude Noel clamped down hard on his tongue while offering, then tempering, his praise of young defenceman Jacob Trouba.
"For a 19-year-old player I think he makes good decisions, he plays hard, he plays a lot of minutes and makes a lot of good decisions," said the Jets' boss. "There's some good stability in his game."
Asked if he had done enough to earn a spot as one of the team's top six defencemen, Noel added:
"That will be determined, but it's hard to believe... well, it's hard to say. For me, he looks good right now."
Actually, "good" doesn't begin to describe Trouba's play, particularly over the past two games. He was arguably the best of the Jets again Thursday -- goalie Ondrej Pavelec was pretty darn steady, too -- in racking up 23 minutes and 28 seconds of ice time and blocking two shots. There were some miscues, as he did finish minus-1 and was charged with two giveaways, but he played a lot of minutes in a variety of situations and looked comfortable.
"I still made a lot of mistakes out there," said Trouba. "I'm just trying to get better every game and put everything towards what I'm doing out there. I'm just trying to work hard to make this team and whatever they decide, they decide."
Trust us, the decision has been made: he's a keeper and if his improvement over the course of the pre-season is a harbinger of things to come, he's going to get more minutes in more situations as this year unfolds.
Afterward Trouba offered this when quizzed about the best piece of advice he received heading into camp -- and his answer is indicative of how level-headed his is both on and off the ice:
"Just have fun and enjoy it," said Trouba. "This is what I've worked for my whole life, to get to this point. You've got a pretty good opportunity here, so just have fun with it.
"It's just a game. It's hockey. I've played it my whole life having fun."
But don't misinterpret that as a laissez-faire approach to the game. Far from it. Trouba has a competitive edge that is evident in every puck battle and a notorious nasty streak that has to really reveal itself -- yet.
"I think I'm pretty hard on myself," said Trouba. "But (a mistake) is not the end of the world. There's a lot of (more important) things going in the world than a hockey game. I'm just trying to enjoy what I'm doing and take advantage of this opportunity."
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