Capobianco ‘a true pro’
Seldom-used D-man’s work ethic and positive attitude earn respect of teammates and coach
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Practice had long been completed and the locker room mostly emptied when Kyle Capobianco stepped off the ice at Canada Life Centre on Wednesday morning.
The Winnipeg defenceman retreated to his stall in the far corner of the dressing room and slowly started to shed his equipment. He had been part of the Jets’ morning skate ahead of their clash with the visiting Minnesota Wild that evening — a game in which he wouldn’t be playing.
He and some other healthy scratches had spent extra time with the squad’s assistant coaches.
It seems no other roster player during the 2022-23 NHL season has put in more after-practice workouts, endured more bag skates and conditioning assignments than Capobianco. None has played fewer games or logged fewer minutes on the ice than the 25-year-old product of Mississauga, Ont. — including a couple of guys picked up on waivers mid-season.
Such is life for a player stuck deep down on the depth chart of Winnipeg’s blue line.
There’s no denying Capobianco has gained the respect and admiration of his teammates and coaches.
“He’s a true pro. And we heard a lot of good things about his character before we signed him. You give him a ton of credit because it’s not easy doing what he’s doing,” said head coach Rick Bowness. “He’s sitting out all this time but give him credit because he works hard every day. He’s in the gym every day. He does extra work to get ready to play when his name is called.
“But every day in this league, no matter what you do, is a blessing. He understands that.”
Capobianco has seen action in just 10 of the Jets’ 65 regular-season games this year. His two points on the season are both goals, including a critical second-period marker in a 7-5 win over the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday.
Even when Capobianco does dress, his ice time is sheltered, averaging nearly 12 minutes per game or half of what top defenceman Josh Morrissey (24:03) receives each night. In a professional sports world filled with egos, one might assume Capobianco is the team’s resident curmudgeon. Think again.
“He’s a guy that comes in every day and works hard and gives it his all. He handles the puck really well, really good reads in the (offensive) zone, really predictable in my mind. He’s fantastic,” said Jets centre Mark Scheifele. “That’s a hard thing to go through. It speaks volumes to his character and the person he is, and the way he was raised. He’s just a really great guy.
“Every time he comes into the lineup he plays amazing, makes a lot of good reads, makes a lot of good plays.”
Ask the man himself and he’ll tell you he’s just doing his job, that he’s grateful for the opportunity he’s been given and that he’s ready to help the team when called upon. Dig a little deeper and Capobianco admits it isn’t necessarily where he envisioned himself when he was selected by the Arizona Coyotes early in the third round (63rd overall) of the 2015 NHL Draft.
He’s learned to handle adversity much better during his career, which includes 155 games over five seasons with the Tucson Roadrunners of the American Hockey League. Gaining perspective has allowed him to enjoy each minute of work, even the bag skates, while also keeping him hungry to earn a spot on the game-day roster.
“It can take a toll on you, but no one wants to be around a teammate like that,” Capobianco said. “When you’re younger and you taste some success, you can start to think everything should be given to you and that’s something that Rick has stressed this year, that things are going to be earned.
“That’s what I wanted to do when I came here and just the chance to continue to grow. I’m still young and I just want to keep improving — my shot, skating — and when you do that the results will come.”
Capobianco suited up for just 59 games over five seasons with the Coyotes, though the bulk (45) came last season when Arizona finished two points ahead of the last-place Montreal Canadiens.
The Jets signed the free agent last July to a two-year contract, with a US$762,500 annual cap hit.
Bowness opted to keep Capobianco on the 23-man roster after a solid training camp. As a result, Johnny Kovacevic was placed on waivers and eventually claimed by Montreal.
Capobianco he was given a role in Winnipeg requiring patience, but he’ll continue to put his head down and wait for his chance.
Whenever that might come.
“As far as establishing yourself or developing a rhythm, it’s just whenever opportunities happen, I just have to keep trying to put my best performance out there,” he said.
Staying put: Jets defenceman Logan Stanley was asked to comment on a report he asked to be moved prior to the NHL trade deadline on March 3.
“I’m not going to comment too much about it. Obviously, I’m disappointed I haven’t played more, but I’ve been hurt for a big chunk of the season. It’s tough to come back in from injuries,” he said. “The trade deadline is behind us now and I’m focused on helping this team win hockey games and make a deep playoff run.”
Stanley, who was selected by the Jets with the 18th overall pick in 2016, has played just 14 games this season, registering one assist while averaging 13:23 of ice time per game, including time on the penalty kill.
He fractured his foot on Oct. 24 and missed 18 games, only to injure the ankle on the same leg in his second game back, leading to another lengthy absence (22 games).
He’s been in and out of the lineup ever since.
As is often the case with trade rumours, much of the context is left out, which can lead to questioning the player’s commitment to the team. The 24-year-old was asked if he had a message he wanted to give to fans.
“I love Winnipeg. Since the day I was drafted here, everyone’s treated me amazing. Other than it’s a little cold in the winter, no complaints about the city, the organization. I’ve been treated, and my family’s been treated, really well since I’ve been here,” he said. “I love the city. I love the organization. I’m happy I’m still here, honestly. The team that drafted you, it’s always the team that you want to play for, for a long time. We have a great group in here and a lot of good friends and we’ve got a good enough team that we can do some damage in the playoffs.”
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.