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Young players fuel Jets' upswing

Maurice excited by room for improvement on Winnipeg roster

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Winnipeg rookie centre Mark Scheifele (55), an emerging star, is a member of the youngest roster in the NHL.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Enlarge Image

Winnipeg rookie centre Mark Scheifele (55), an emerging star, is a member of the youngest roster in the NHL. Photo Store

New Jets coach Paul Maurice seems determined not to waste time or energy on irrelevant things.

On Wednesday, for instance, as he was giving most of his team a day to rest and re-energize before facing the Vancouver Canucks at the MTS Centre on Friday, the coach spent a few moments outlining why the Jets' youth is an asset and why you will not hear him rolling that out as an excuse for coming up short in a game such as Tuesday's 4-3 home loss to Nashville.

The Jets, FYI, are currently icing the youngest team in the NHL at an average age of 26.6 years.

"It was absolutely one of the enticing things about coming here," Maurice said, having taken over the team on Jan. 12. "Without a doubt. I've liked a lot of things the team does but if you're sitting 25th on that list, there's only so much room to get better.

'There was no letdown last night. They weren't running out of position, getting away from what they were trying to do, to break a game open'

-- Jets head coach Paul Maurice

"With where we are on that list, and I know I've used that word 'young' at certain times, that it's not talked about here. That's not something... we saw Barry (Trotz, Nashville head coach) say, 'We're a great young team, that was a big win for us.' That's not something talked about in our room. We don't look at (Mark) Scheifele or (Jacob) Trouba or our young players, they're good players going out there. I like the fact that's not a word fired out here.

"But those are things, if you can get a young team to learn to compete and value that, then that's a foundation, something you can build from."

As with youth, a "letdown" was not a part of the conversation regarding the Tuesday game against the Predators.

"There was no letdown last night," the coach declared. "They weren't running out of position, getting away from what they were trying to do, to break a game open. That's what I'd seen in the past, a lot of routes that suggested at 1-0, everything changes, the offence, trading back and forth. And it wasn't a lull where guys weren't putting out what they had.

"Our execution wasn't as good as it had been earlier but in terms of the compete, that is the one area, more than our defensive play, that excites me about that room."

Veteran centre Olli Jokinen has spoken about a young team growing and learning since he arrived in Winnipeg more than a year ago.

On Wednesday, his message was unaltered.

"I think our level of play is better than it was but we still think there's a next level to take," Jokinen said. "That's what we're trying to reach. What we think is there's potential to be better. This is not the highest level we can be. There is that next level; we just haven't been there yet but we believe we'll find that level and we're on our way to be a good team."

One thing the 25-25-6 Jets have been doing better in a short time under Maurice is coming up with in-game responses.

On Tuesday, the Jets created goals twice less than a minute after the Predators had scored.

"With Paul, if we get scored against he tells the players who are on next that 'This is a big shift, go get it back,'" Jokinen said. "And he shows a lot of faith, he's very positive and at the same time he's pushing us and believing us.

"A good example in Chicago (Sunday's 3-1 win). We didn't play well in two periods and he was confident we could come back and win and that's something players feed off."

 

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 30, 2014 D2

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