Eyssimont puts charge into Bolts
Experience with Jets was invaluable
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TAMPA BAY — Michael Eyssimont may be gone from the Winnipeg Jets. But he’s definitely not forgotten by fans, former teammates and coaches who love the energy and excitement he brought to the lineup earlier this year.
Turns out the feeling is very much mutual.
“I’m really grateful to Winnipeg for giving me that first opportunity,” Eyssimont told the Free Press on Sunday afternoon at Amalie Arena, a couple hours before he got set to face-off against the Jets for the first time.
“To kind of show, finally, what I had been working on in the minors for so long.”
Indeed, the 26-year-old came into this current NHL campaign with the label of a minor-leaguer. With five pro seasons, and 220 AHL games on his resumé, it looked like perhaps he’d reached his ceiling.
But an impressive training camp with the Jets opened plenty of eyes, including those of new head coach Rick Bowness. And when the injuries began piling up — Winnipeg had seven regulars sidelined by December — opportunity came knocking.
Eyssimont made the most of his call-up, scoring his first big-league goal, adding his first four assists, and dragging a shorthanded Jets squad into battle night after night as they played some of their best hockey.
But then, the walking wounded began to return. And Eyssimont was told he was being sent back to the Manitoba Moose after 19 games with the Jets.
“I definitely understood it,” Eyssimont said. “There was four guys coming back (all at once) and they were all forwards. It is what it is. I was just happy to have had that opportunity. Obviously there was that good stretch there where I kind of made some waves and was able to get another chance with another team.”
That would be the San Jose Sharks, who intercepted his return to the AHL by claiming him on waivers.
“It was pretty crazy. It was one of the more hectic days of my life,” said Eyssimont. “I was on my way to the airport to meet the Moose in Laval. So I got the call, had to have the taxi driver turn around, take me back and I had to pack up my stuff. It was wild. It was pretty hectic.”
The change of scenery certainly suited him well, as Eyssimont was given top six minutes and scored three times while adding five assists in 20 games. But with San Jose well out of the playoff picture, and calls coming in about Eyssimont’s availability, they pulled the trigger on a trade with Tampa Bay.
“That was a surprise as well,” said Eyssimont.
Coming the other way was Vladislav Namestnikov, who they quickly flipped to the Jets in exchange for a fourth-round draft pick. It makes sense for the Sharks, who are thinking long-term, to essentially turn found money (Eyssimont) into something that will hopefully help them down the road.
It also gave the Lightning the fiery kind of forward they were looking for as they prepare for a likely first-round playoff showdown with the Toronto Maple Leafs. And the Jets are thrilled to add Namestnikov to their mix.
A win-win-win, if you will.
“It’s been kind of three different places and a different role with every spot,” said Eyssimont.
“I feel like my development is kind of being streamlined this year after spending a lot of time in the minors. Getting these opportunities and these looks, I’m just kind of streamlining through my career and now a chance to hopefully play in the playoffs and get a look at that, too.”
Eyssimont said he’s learned much this year playing for three accomplished coaches in Rick Bowness, David Quinn and now Jon Cooper, who has guided the Lightning to three straight Stanley Cup Finals and back-to-back championships in 2020 and 2021.
“It’s a different position because a lot of this team is very established. Not just in the lineup, but players in the league,” said Eyssimont.
“I’ve watched more Tampa Bay Lightning games in the last three or four seasons than any team in the league. I haven’t missed many games that I’ve been able to catch. So I feel like I belong in the lineup and on the ice I feel definitely capable. But off the ice it’s pretty surreal to me to be in this locker room.”
He lined up on Sunday night as the fourth-line centre, skating between veteran wingers Corey Perry and Pat Maroon. He has yet to hit the scoresheet in six games with the Lightning, but has been involved in plenty of chaos as shown by his 16 penalty minutes so far.
“My goal, in this contract, was to get a first taste of the NHL. I’m in a position right now where I can do that,” said Eyssimont. “Nothing is set in stone. It’s just up to me to keep pushing.”
Facing some old friends was going to be strange, but Eyssimont said it also serves as a reminder of just how far he’s come — figuratively and literally — in such a short period of time.
From the Moose to the Jets, to the Sharks to the Lightning, it’s been quite the journey.
“I haven’t really been able to stop and just kind of look at everything with some perspective. I’m just trying to stay focused on the day right now,” he said.
“It’s been a lot of changes. It’s important to put the pressure on yourself to continue to adapt to these new situations and these news positions that I’m in and just try to make the most of them. I knew I was capable. It’s just about staying in the day right now. And then, hopefully in what will be a short offseason, I can reflect on it and enjoy it with my family.”
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.