Wheeler ready to roll

Jets captain returns to lineup in time for critical stretch against top teams; Scheifele sidelined


Advertise with us

First they beat the Ottawa Senators. Then the Montreal Canadiens. And, finally, Mother Nature’s wrath.

Read this article for free:


Already have an account? Log in here »

To continue reading, please subscribe:

Monthly Digital Subscription

$4.75 per week*

  • Enjoy unlimited reading on winnipegfreepress.com
  • Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
  • Access News Break, our award-winning app
  • Play interactive puzzles

*Billed as $19.00 plus GST every four weeks. Cancel anytime.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/04/2022 (422 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

First they beat the Ottawa Senators. Then the Montreal Canadiens. And, finally, Mother Nature’s wrath.

Yes, the Winnipeg Jets, currently enjoying the comforts of Florida, are having a pretty decent week so far.

“It’s nice to have some time down here, for sure, in the sun and not be in the blizzard at the same time,” defenceman Josh Morrissey said Thursday via Zoom, following his club’s practice.

Jets captain Blake Wheeler will return to the lineup against the Florida Panthers after missing three games due to injury.
JOHN WOODS /THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES Jets captain Blake Wheeler will return to the lineup against the Florida Panthers after missing three games due to injury.

Whether they can keep the good times rolling is now the biggest question. With just eight games left to play, and seven points separating them from the final Western Conference playoff spot, the Jets pretty much need to run the table and get some help on the out-of-town scoreboard.

Standing in their way over the next week will be four of the top teams in the league. The Florida Panthers on Friday. The Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday. The New York Rangers on Tuesday. And the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday.

“I think the guys are just trying to embrace, you know, dodging the snowstorm and being in Florida, and getting ready for a big game (Friday),” said captain Blake Wheeler. He is set to return from an undisclosed injury that kept him out of the past three games. (His team put up a 2-0-1 record to at least retain a fighting chance down the stretch.)

“The guys did a great job. Contributions from throughout the lineup. It was good to see a bunch of guys step up and keep us afloat,” said Wheeler.

Winnipeg was supposed to host the Seattle Kraken on Wednesday, but that game was moved to May 1 because of the adverse weather. That allowed the Jets to charter south earlier than expected.

“Yeah, it’s definitely a strange set of circumstances. Not every year do you have a snowstorm cancel a game. But this has been quite the year on a number of fronts,” said Wheeler. “So, I think the motto of this year is ‘expect the unexpected’ and we have had to roll with the punches all year and just be flexible and just go with whatever situation has been thrown at us.”

In addition to welcoming Wheeler back, injured forward Jansen Harkins could also be an option against the Panthers. However, centre Mark Scheifele will not be. He has remained behind in Winnipeg after suffering a suspected shoulder injury last Sunday following a hit from Senators forward Parker Kelly.

“Scheif will not play on the trip. So, he will be day-to-day but he will not play on the trip,” said interim coach Dave Lowry, who called this a “critical weekend” for his club.

If there’s a potential silver lining to the way this week has played out, it’s that the Jets avoid having to play five games over seven nights. They’ll have had three full days of rest, instead of one, when they play back-to-back against the Panthers and Lightning.

“Obviously, the week that we had in front of us was going to be pretty daunting. I think when you go to the east and then back home for one game and then again out here, it’s a lot of travel,” said Morrissey. “Hopefully we can use a little bit of extra rest and practise time to be ready to go against, obviously, two very good teams.”

Wheeler skated on Thursday on the top line with Pierre-Luc Dubois and Kyle Connor. He wasn’t willing to disclose the particulars of his ailment, other than to say he’s ready to contribute.

Paul Stastny continues to centre the second line with Nikolaj Ehlers and Morgan Barron, who opened plenty of eyes with a goal and assist against the Canadiens on Monday.

“We always have the option to move guys in and around, but he skated well, he complemented (Ehlers) and (Stastny). Just his decisions with the puck and the ability to make plays, get in and get into the net (was what impressed),” said Lowry.

Adam Lowry with Mason Appleton and Zach Sanford comprises the third line, while Harkins would likely play with Dominic Toninato and Evgeny Svechnikov on the fourth line. Adam Brooks and Mikey Eyssimont, who made his NHL debut against the Habs, are also options.

On the blue line, it appears Dylan Samberg will stay in on the third-pairing with Brenden Dillon, meaning Logan Stanley will again be a healthy scratch. The top two pairs — Morrissey with Dylan DeMelo, and Neal Pionk with Nate Schmidt — remain intact.

“Four lines that can score. Very skilled team,” Lowry said of the powerhouse Panthers, who lead the Eastern Conference and trial only Colorado for the top record in the league. “They’re getting contributions from everybody throughout their lineup, even with (Aaron) Ekblad being out. Still getting lots of offence from the back end as well. A team that’s never out of a game and I think if you look at a few of their past games, they’ve been down four goals going into a third period and finding ways to win, so that will be a real big challenge for us.”

There was some more good news on Thursday, as 20-year-old Cole Perfetti skated for the first time in nearly two months since suffering an upper-body injury in a game against Seattle. Lowry said the on-ice session lasted just under 15 minutes. However, there is no timetable on when the rookie forward might be able to return,

“That’s just part of the progression with him. He is on the trip to skate,” said Lowry. “That doesn’t mean he’s close to coming back. That just means that’s the next step, (the) next phase in his rehab.”


Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

Report Error Submit a Tip


Advertise With Us

Winnipeg Jets