Appleton out with wrist injury
Gagner next man up after versatile forward sidelined for up to three months
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A freak injury is the latest blow to the forward depth of the Winnipeg Jets, who are really testing just how far the “next man up” mentality might take them.
First, it was Nikolaj Ehlers, who has missed the last dozen games with a concerning lower-body injury and still has no timetable for a return. Then, it was Morgan Barron, who will be out at least a few more weeks after having wrist surgery. And now, it’s Mason Appleton, sidelined for the next two or three months after going under the knife Wednesday morning.
Appleton was hurt Sunday in Seattle when Kraken defenceman Carson Soucy bodychecked him after the puck had already been dumped in. Appleton’s stick got caught in the glass, which wrenched his arm.
“Hard to believe, right?” Jets head coach Rick Bowness said following Wednesday’s practice. “When he came in off the ice and talked to him, he couldn’t hold a stick, so right away you’re worried about that. It’s just unfortunate because he was playing very, very well, playing a lot of important minutes for the team and that line, doing a good job on the penalty kill. Those are important minutes that have to be replaced.”
Appleton had moved up to the top line to play with Mark Scheifele and Kyle Connor after Ehlers was hurt in the second game of the season. He scored once and added five assists in 14 games.
Now, veteran Sam Gagner is tasked with trying to fill that role, starting Thursday night when the Jets (9-4-1) begin a three-game homestand against the Anaheim Ducks (5-10-1). Game time is 7 p.m.
“You have to be ready for anything,” Gagner said. “It’s a long season, there are going to be ups and downs, injuries, different things that happen. You have to prepare for any role. Whatever is asked of me, I’ll do. Hopefully, I’ll keep finding ways to help the team win.”
The 33-year-old veteran of 981 regular-season games has scored three goals and added two assists in 14 games this year, primarily in a bottom-six role while also getting some power-play time. His off-season signing, at a league minimum salary, is looking quite shrewd now.
“(Gagner) has good offensive instincts and, listen, he knows his role. When we brought him in, he knew he was going to be moved around a little bit and this is part of that,” Bowness said. “Hopefully, he can read off (Scheifele and Connor) and make it work. We will see how it goes. We certainly have faith he will do a good job there.”
The trickle down means players such as Dominic Toninato and Mikey Eyssimont, who began the season with the Manitoba Moose, will be in the lineup against the Ducks. Jansen Harkins, who was also sent to the AHL after training camp, is also back on Winnipeg’s roster and in the mix.
“It’s an opportunity for guys,” said forward Blake Wheeler. “It’s certainly not something you’re looking for, or looking forward to. Those are all guys that have had a big impact on our team and the success we’ve had so far this year. It’s disappointing to see guys go down. Like I said, I think there’s going to be guys in our lineup that are going to get a little jolt of energy because they’re adding responsibility.”
There was a potentially positive development Wednesday on the Ehlers front. He skated on his own, prior to practice, for the first time since that Oct. 17 game in Dallas. There’s speculation he’s dealing with a groin issue, although the team hasn’t confirmed specifics of the ailment.
“It’s status quo with him. It was a light skate and we will see how he feels (Thursday) coming in. That’s all I can tell you,” said Bowness. “It’s day to day with him now until we decide what’s the next step to take.”
Defenceman Logan Stanley is also on the injured list after breaking a bone in his foot on Oct. 24. He has yet to resume skating. As the injuries mount, the possibility exists for Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff to test the waters of the NHL trade market.
After a quiet stretch of just two games in the last eight days, the team begins a span Thursday when they’ll have 38 games over 75 nights. There should an extra buzz in the building, with both Teemu Selanne and Teppo Numminen present as they are inducted into the organization’s Hall of Fame.
“The scheduling now, it gets crazy as of (Thursday). There won’t be another two-day break for a while,” said Bowness. “We’re home and the crowd here is always enthusiastic, great passionate fans we have, so that will give us a boost. We lost first place (Tuesday) night with Dallas moving ahead of us. We got to go back and go get it and go after them.”
JETS ROOTING FOR BIG BLUE: The achievements of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have not gone unnoticed by the hockey club.
“Incredible accomplishment,” Wheeler said, as the Blue & Gold guns for a third straight Grey Cup championship this Sunday in Regina. “I’ve heard a little bit about some of the principles that they have, the type of culture they’ve built over there. It’s really impressive any time you’re able to compete for a championship, let alone three in a row. It’s a real testament to what you’ve built over there. We’re certainly big fans of theirs and will be cheering for them.”
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.