Jets’ injury woes coming to an end as four regulars ready to return
Callups given credit as Ehlers, Wheeler, Perfetti and Schmidt available against Lightning
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The Winnipeg Jets have not one, but four players potentially returning from injury for Friday night’s tilt with the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning.
The beginning of the week saw forwards Nikolaj Ehlers and Cole Perfetti, as well as defenceman Nate Schmidt return to practice as full participants. At Thursday morning’s skate at Canada Life Centre, sick bay said goodbye to another guest as veteran forward Blake Wheeler practised with teammates in a regular jersey.
All four players have missed considerable time due to injury.
The 35-year-old Wheeler took a slap shot to the groin area on Dec. 15 in the second period of a 2-1 overtime victory at home against the Nashville Predators. After crumbling to the ice, Wheeler went into the locker room before returning for the third period and overtime.
Wheeler required surgery the next day and was expected to miss four to six weeks.
“Well, there’s a difference between being hurt and being injured. I didn’t know I was injured until the next day,” said Wheeler.
“A part of our game is there are bad bounces. I’ve been around a long time and fortunate to have had my fair share of really good ones. It’s something I don’t want to go through again and wouldn’t wish on anyone, but I just feel really grateful that our medical staff and the doctors we have in town took good care of me and was able to get everything taken care of and back as soon as I was able to.”
The Jets, who’ve managed to stay afloat despite the injuries and currently sit in second place in the Central Division with a 24-13-1 record, are eager to get some big names back. It has also forced the club to make some tough decisions. The Jets sent forward Kristian Reichel down to the Manitoba Moose and placed forward Michael Eyssimont on waivers on Thursday. If Eyssimont clears, he will join Reichel and the Moose. The returnees would also potentially make forward David Gustaafsson and defencemen Ville Heinola and Kyle Capobianco healthy scratches against Tampa.
It will be especially bittersweet for the Jets to take Heinola out of the lineup as he’s played particularly well on their current three-game winning streak and set up Tuesday’s game-winning goal against the Calgary Flames.
“From the outside looking in, people see hockey players, they see numbers, but they are human beings, they’re friends in this dressing room. Some guys have families and things like that. So, it’s not easy,” said forward Pierre-luc Dubois.
“I’ve said this before: A lot of those guys, if not all of them, they came up here and got an opportunity and they probably played the best hockey of their careers and that’s why we’re here today, in this position in the standings that we’re in. It’s not easy, it’s disappointing probably, but in this dressing room, we really appreciate the work those guys did for us, because we wouldn’t be here without them.”
Even if Wheeler, Ehlers, Perfetti and Schmidt all return, the Jets still aren’t at 100 per cent. Forward Saku Maenalanen skated Thursday in a non-contact uniform, defenceman Logan Stanley (out with a lower-body injury since Dec. 9) and forward Mason Appleton (who had wrist surgery Nov. 15 and was given an eight t0 12 week timeline to return) aren’t ready to return to the lineup.
“(Appleton) skated yesterday (Wednesday). He’s still a ways away, but the good news was that we could put him on the ice. He’s been doing his off-ice conditioning and all of that. Even Logan Stanley skated yesterday briefly. So, those are good steps for both of them. But that’s all. The doctor cleared them to skate, not to participate in practice or anything like that,” said head coach Rick Bowness.
For those that are ready, they’ll have a difficult test right off the hop with the surging Lightning (24-12-1) in town. Tampa Bay — who have made the Stanley Cup final the past three seasons and won two of them — lost 5-1 to the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday but won four straight prior to that.
The Lightning have scored three or more goals in 13 of their last 15 games against the Jets.
“They’ve been playing really, really well lately. They had a bit of a slow start for them, but they know how to win, clearly,” said Bowness.
“They’re a great hockey club and they’re very, very well coached by Jon (Cooper) and his staff. They’re elite in every position.”
Jets focus on mental-health awareness
The Jets are using this month to raise awareness for mental-health.
In honour of #HockeyTalks month — the NHL’s public awareness campaign — the Jets will host various mental health organizations on the concourse at each game in January. The Jan. 15 contest against the visiting Arizona Coyotes has also been named the team’s official #HockeyTalks game. The work of Project 11, the True North Youth Foundation’s cross-curricular mental-health promotion initiative that is available to all Manitoba teachers for kindergarten to Grade 12 classrooms, will be highlighted at the Jan. 15 #HockeyTalks game.
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of...