Coach not worried about Little not putting up big numbers

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DALLAS, Texas — For Bryan Little, the struggle is real.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 06/11/2017 (1846 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

DALLAS, Texas — For Bryan Little, the struggle is real.

Despite centring a line with two of the team’s brightest young stars in Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers, the veteran has been unable to produce much in the way of offence as the season rolls into its second month.

Heading into Monday night’s game against the Stars in Dallas, Little had scored just once in his first 13 games, the opening tally in a 2-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on Oct. 14. And he’d recorded only five assists, putting him on pace for career-low numbers in many statistical categories. Over his previous eight games, he had just two assists.

Jeff Wheeler/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS The Minnesota Wild's Joel Eriksson Ek tries to reach a loose puck in front of Winnipeg Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck as he is defended by the Jets' Bryan Little in the second period on Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017, at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. The Jets won, 2-1.

“Absolutely, I want to chip in more offensively. I feel like I haven’t really gotten going yet and haven’t been getting chances myself,” Little said following the morning skate at American Airlines Center. “I’ve been through and had bad starts and lulls in seasons before, so I know the worst thing you can do is get frustrated and get down on yourself. That makes it 10 times worse. I’m trying to get chances and go from there.”

In his 10-year career, Little has averaged 22 goals and 30 assists for every 82 games played. He had 21 goals and 26 assists last season while playing in 59 times after starting the season with an injury.

Little, who turns 30 this weekend, signed a six-year, US$31.75-million contract extension during training camp in September.

“I’ve been kind of an offensive guy my whole life, but I take pride in playing good defence and that’s my first concern for us as a line, trying to keep the goals out of the net and play good defence with those two young guys,” said Little. “My linemates are playing good and the team is winning. There’s not a ton of pressure but I’d like to see a bit more offence.”

Ehlers has been the most consistent contributor among the trio, with a team-high eight goals to go with three assists heading into the Dallas game. Laine made some headlines last week when he bemoaned his state of play following four straight games without a point, but he responded by scoring in two straight contests to give him six goals and two assists on the year going into Monday’s action.

Little admitted he might need to get a bit more selfish when the puck is on his stick. He has only fired 14 shots on goal, and just three in his past five games.

“For me, playing with those two guys, I just try to get to the net and let them shoot the puck. They both have great releases. (Ehlers) with his speed, he can carry the puck through the whole neutral zone, carry it in and create offence,” he said. “There’s definitely been some plays this season where right after I made it, I immediately thought I should have shot it. You’re always trying to feed those guys, especially (Laine). You want to get a guy like that the puck and sometimes you should maybe shoot the puck when you’re in a better position. Instead, you’re trying to look for the guy with the unbelievable shot. It’s just me trying to make the right decision. I’m getting used to that.”

Jets head coach Paul Maurice isn’t worried about a lack of production from Little, saying he’s doing plenty of other things to help the team enjoy a strong start to the season.

“Bryan’s going to get his points. I think he’s been fine. Those two young players are still young players, and they are dynamic and they are exciting. Bryan does a lot of reading of the game, especially when we don’t have the puck. He’s the right guy on our team to fill that hole,” said Maurice.

One area where Little continues to enjoy success is in the faceoff dot. His 58 per cent success rate leads the Jets and is among the best in the league for full-time centres.

Maurice said he’d like to get Little and his linemates on the ice a bit more in coming games, as their average ice time has been in the 15- to 17-minute range recently.

“This guy’s a real good, quiet pro. Bryan just goes out and plays, and he reads the people around him, and if there’s a play to be made he makes it. I don’t find him forcing his offence,” said Maurice. “He’s a good mentor for those two kids. I don’t worry about him. I certainly take him for granted, completely and totally. I’m aware of that. He’s a real big part of what we do and those two kids having success, Bryan’s got a big big piece of that.”

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

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.

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