Look how much you’ve grown! Jets a lot different now, first coach Noel says
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/11/2017 (1895 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
DENVER — He was their coach for their first 2 1/2 seasons in Winnipeg, but Claude Noel says the Jets are almost unrecognizable to him now.
“I enjoy watching them play because I know some of the players there, but it’s funny, I was looking at the roster to see how many guys were there when I was there and there’s only (seven) left from 2014,” said Noel, who currently serves as a pro scout for the New Jersey Devils. “There are (other) people that were in the organization, but weren’t with the big club.”
During Noel’s ill-fated final campaign with the Jets, a 19-year-old Jacob Trouba was breaking into the NHL while a 20-year-old Mark Scheifele was also earning his first real playing time in the bigs. A lot has changed since.
Did Noel have any clue the Jets would be taking some bold steps toward becoming an elite team in 2017-18?
“You wouldn’t be able to see that far because you don’t know about the drafts and the young players,” he said. “If I was with them all seven years, I could see the progression, but (the team) in my time spent there and the team now is two different teams. I think they’ve done a wonderful job drafting and being specific about what they’re looking for. They’ve got smart players and a smart team. They’ve done a good job there.”
Noel, who is based in Phoenix and regularly scouts 19 teams in the NHL and AHL for the Devils, is constantly reminded that players are not close to being the finished product when they are first drafted.
“I think they’ve done a wonderful job drafting and being specific about what they’re looking for. They’ve got smart players and a smart team.”–Claude Noel
“What I find really interesting is the maturation,” he said. “Like, when I watch Scheifele play, he plays like a man now. He was young when I was there. We sent him back to junior twice and he came in the third year, the year I got let go. So he was just trying to get his feet wet, he wasn’t as strong. Now he’s a really good player.”
Captain Blake Wheeler, meanwhile, might be Noel’s favourite test case.
“When he came to us — he was in Atlanta for half a season — he came to us and he was a real good impact player but you’ve got to give him a lot of credit, he’s really changed his game,” Noel said. “I’m sure if you asked him, he’s been given a lot more responsibility. He had a lot of responsibility when I was there as well, because he was one of our better players.
“Where he’s done really well is you can see his leadership and I can see some of the effects he has on other players. He now plays like a real power forward but he also has a lot of speed and a lot of skill and you seldom see him take nights off. He’s a consistent player and what I see the most in him is I see him driving the team.”
Wednesday’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Colorado Avalanche improved Winnipeg’s record to 15-6-4, good for second place in the NHL’s Western Conference, one point behind the St. Louis Blues, their Central Division rivals.
Providing both teams continue with their current pace, a home-and-home series between the Blues and Jets on Dec. 16 and 17 should be an epic battle.
”I think we’ve gotta circle (those dates) on our calendar, playing those guys,” said Winnipeg centre Bryan Little. “But right now, you can’t pay too much attention to the standings because they’re gonna change and hopefully, we can keep winning.”
“Right now, you can’t pay too much attention to the standings because they’re gonna change and hopefully, we can keep winning.”–Bryan Little
Little, who scored the go-ahead goal against the Avs four minutes into the third period, wasn’t happy about the blown lead.
“It doesn’t feel good right now,” he said. “It’s a game where I thought we probably had the two points but found a way to get one, so that’s big. We can use this game to learn a lesson, I guess.”
Winning is the prime objective but the Jets have developed a knack for collecting points even when they don’t play a perfect game.
“We like the way we’ve started, for sure,” said defenceman Josh Morrissey. “I think at this point in the year we still have a long ways to go. I know where we want to get to, and the goals we have as a group. We have to be continually getting better every day.
“Obviously, you want the two points but you found a way to grind a greasy road game into a chance to win.”
Left-winger Nikolaj Ehlers insisted the Avs are a much better team than they are given credit for.
“It’s never easy playing down here,” he said. “They’re a tough team to play against. They’re skilled (and) they’re fast but I think we played a good game. We played hard, we got pucks deep. We tried to work them down low and got some good chances out of it. Offensively, we did what we could to win this game.”
The Jets had the day off Thursday before they host the Vegas Golden Knights Friday and the Ottawa Senators Sunday.
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.