Jets’ future in the spotlight Focus on trio of first-rounders heading into Young Stars tourney
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/09/2022 (268 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The Winnipeg Jets organization frequently peddles hope, priding itself on the draft-and-develop model and believing patience will one day pay off in a significant way.
In that sense, the jury is still very much out.
While the present will come into focus starting next Thursday when main training camp gets underway, the future will be on full display this weekend as many of the club’s top prospects are given an opportunity to shine at the Young Stars tournament in Penticton, B.C.
At the very top of that list is a trio of recent first-round draft picks — Cole Perfetti, Chaz Lucius and Brad Lambert — believing they can make an impact sooner rather than later.
“Hopefully, we’re going to be the future of this organization and play a lot of games together, spend a lot of time together. So, it’s nice to build this relationship now,” Perfetti said Wednesday, following an hour-long practice at the Iceplex.
The group of 13 forwards, eight defencemen and three goaltenders heads west on Thursday, facing off against squads from Calgary (Friday), Vancouver (Sunday) and Edmonton (Monday). None of the games will be broadcast locally on television or radio, but the Jets will be livestreaming them on their social media channels.
Perfetti, 20, is the elder statesman of sorts, with 18 NHL games and 49 AHL games already under his belt. The 10th-overall NHL pick from 2020 was included on this roster simply to get some additional reps in, after shoulder and back injuries sidelined him last February.
“Hopefully, we’re going to be the future of this organization and play a lot of games together, spend a lot of time together. So, it’s nice to build this relationship now.”–Cole Perfetti
“It was a long summer. Nice to be back in a practice uniform with a bunch of the guys,” said Perfetti, who skated on a line with Daniel Torgersson (2020 2nd-round pick) and Greg Meireles (2019 6th-round draft pick). “As a hockey player you really want to play games. You’re done with practising, done with working out. I just want to play hockey. That part I’m really excited about and can’t wait.”
Now fully healthy and champing at the bit, Perfetti is likely to be a major player for the Jets this coming campaign, with a spot in the top six along with Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Blake Wheeler looking like a lock. But the immediate status of Lucius and Lambert isn’t quite so clear.
Lucius, 19, had off-season ankle surgery after a strong rookie season with the University of Minnesota. The 18th-overall pick from 2021 recently signed his entry-level deal with the Jets, and believes he can crack the big club out of camp.
“I’m really hopeful and I’m going to give it my best shot. I’d say anyone in my position would say the same thing,” said Lucius. If he doesn’t, both the Manitoba Moose and the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL are options.
“I’m really looking forward to playing in some games and getting some games under my belt before camp,” he said. “Being in Winnipeg for the first time now, and seeing the group of guys, it’s pretty special. I’m really thankful for the opportunity and so far everyone has been super great. These three games are going to be really big. I haven’t played since February, so I’m really excited for the opportunity.”
“Being in Winnipeg for the first time now, and seeing the group of guys, it’s pretty special. I’m really thankful for the opportunity and so far everyone has been super great.”–Chaz Lucius
Lambert, 18, was drafted 30th-overall earlier this summer and is expected to play somewhere in North America this fall after spending the past three years in his native Finland. The Jets, Moose and the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL are all options.
“Personally, I’m just taking it a day at a time, trying to have as good of a camp as I could possibly have, prove how I can play, show them how I can play, and then after that it’s more in their hands where they want to put me or where they think the best spot is for me to play,” he said. “I’m not too worried about that. I just love going out there and playing hockey, wherever it is. We’ll see where it is. I’m just gonna obviously do my best in this camp and training camp too, you know, try to earn a spot and we’ll see what happens.”
Lambert just won a silver medal last month with the Finnish world junior team, but was a healthy scratch for the deciding game against Canada.
“I had a different kind of opportunity (last) Christmas at the world juniors and I was playing a bit of a different role this summer. And you know, I think I played pretty well in the role I played in. This summer, it obviously wasn’t too offensive of a role but I think I got pucks deep and grinded it out like my coach wanted to and I think that I did that pretty well,” he said.” So now, playing a more offensive role here and getting things going more, I can’t wait.”
Lucius and Lambert were paired together on a line Wednesday, along with the undrafted Wyatt Bongiovanni who is signed to an AHL deal with the Manitoba Moose and appeared in three games last spring after finishing up his collegiate career with Quinnipiac University.
Along with Rutger McGroarty, who was taken 14th overall this year but isn’t on the Young Stars roster because he’s playing this coming year with the University of Michigan, there’s no shortage of future firepower up front.
“A lot of talent up there,” was Perfetti’s assessment of the prospect pool.
“It’s going to be fun. Plus I’ve never been to Penticton. I’ve heard it’s pretty nice.”–Cole Perfetti
Not surprisingly, Moose head coach Mark Morrison saw plenty of excitement on display as he put his troops through their paces Wednesday.
“A lot of the guys don’t know each other but I thought there was a lot of energy. They were raring to go,” said Morrison. “They haven’t played games in a long time — some of them longer than others — but I thought there was lots of energy and lots of pace to practice. We just want to get them to start talking and communicating to each other because they are just coming together as a group.”
This is the first Young Stars event since 2019 and takes on extra importance given that there have been no in-person summer development camps since COVID began.
“It is an important tournament for these guys because they get their feet under them and when they get to main camp they obviously have a bit of an advantage,” said Morrison, noting that player development gurus Jimmy Roy and Mike Keane have some off-ice team bonding events set up for the weekend as well.
“I’m excited for it. Like I said, I just want to play hockey, get a couple games in, meet some of the new young guys, build relationships,” said Perfetti. “It’s going to be fun. Plus I’ve never been to Penticton. I’ve heard it’s pretty nice.”
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.