VANCOUVER — You couldn’t blame Mason Appleton if he started to wonder what it was going to take to score in the NHL.

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This article was published 21/12/2018 (1076 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

VANCOUVER — You couldn’t blame Mason Appleton if he started to wonder what it was going to take to score in the NHL.

The AHL rookie of the year with 22 goals and 44 assists last season with the Manitoba Moose, had no goals in his first 10 games with the Jets.

Tuesday night in Los Angeles, Appleton’s shot got through Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick and was on its way into the net — until defenceman Drew Doughty stopped it at the last second. Frustrated but undeterred, Appleton finally got the milestone marker 48 hours later as he went hard to the net and redirected a saucer pass from Nic Petan past San Jose Sharks goalie Martin Jones in an eventual 5-3 victory.

The 22-year-old Green Bay, Wis., native made sure to cherish the moment. He will be looking for more tonight in Vancouver when the 23-10-2 Jets wrap up their three-game western road swing against the Canucks.

"You can’t dwell on that stuff. I missed a lot of goals in my life that I’d want back. Not really goals because I didn’t score them," Appleton, the Jets’ sixth-round pick (168th-overall) in the 2015 NHL draft, said about the close call in Los Angeles.

"That was one where the defenceman (Doughty) makes a really good play and you have to tip your cap to him. I can’t really do anything about it. That puck was bouncing and I didn’t get all of it anyways. (Thursday), to get my first, is big for my confidence and it helped our team get the win."

Appleton has opened many eyes since being called up from the Jets last month, in much the same way he did after joining the Moose last season after two years in college with Michigan State. He’s acquitted himself well on the fourth line.

Jets head coach Paul Maurice believes Appleton’s first NHL goal signals another step in his development.

"I thought, especially when he first got here, he had some chances and it didn’t go for him. That first goal is important for a young player. You don’t want him going 20 games. You need to get out there and get a good feeling. I thought after he scored he kind of hit another gear," said Maurice.

Appleton said he feels his confidence has been growing each game.

"I think it takes anyone a game or two to kind of get the feel of things and start getting a little comfortable. Now, having played 10 games (prior to Thursday night) I feel very comfortable. I think that’s going to keep improving and increasing as the season goes on," said Appleton.

With injured forwards Adam Lowry and Andrew Copp both likely back soon, the assumption might be that Appleton would go back to the Moose. But not so fast. He’s been getting in the lineup ahead of Petan, and his impressive play might give everyone in the organization pause for thought.

The only thing working against Appleton is the fact he doesn’t need to be put on waivers to be sent down, while Petan would (and there’s a good chance another team would claim him for nothing).

Appleton said going from top-line minutes with the Moose to fourth-line minutes with the Jets has required physical and mental adjustments.

"Oh yeah, it’s a significant change, 20-plus minutes to right around eight minutes. You manage the game a little bit differently. You can’t get too focused on little mistakes or little plays here and there, because those kind of get magnified when you play a small amount of minutes. So you’ve got to get past things like that," said Appleton.

"But it’s definitely, from a legs and energy standpoint, it helps because you’re fully rejuvenated for every shift and you’re excited to go back out there for the next one."

At 6-2 and 193-pounds, Appleton has enjoyed the physical part of the NHL game, where he said players are generally stronger. He learned that last weekend after taking a big hit in the Tampa Bay game, getting cut for four stitches just above an eye.

"When I’m playing with the Moose my job is to score and be a producer every night. Here it’s not that, it’s to get heavy on the forecheck and be quick on pucks and try to create those little turnovers down low so we can sustain some pressure," said Appleton.

He credited some of the veterans with being good mentors, singling out Mathieu Perreault. The pair briefly played together on the fourth line when Appleton was first called up.

"It was easy to play with him, just because any question I could go right to him. He was right there, always chatting my ear up, letting me know what I was doing well, little things he wanted to see change. It was good to start off playing with him," said Appleton.

One trio we haven’t seen is Appleton with Petan and Jack Roslovic. They formed a dominant top line with the Moose for a stretch last season.

"We were pretty dynamic with the Moose, made a lot of good stuff happen. But this is obviously a different league and we’re in different roles here," Appleton said.

For now, Appleton is enjoying being part of a team that sits on top of both the Western Conference standings.

"It’s great. I think this team is built for a long run, and we all see that. Just excited to be a piece of the puzzle right now. Just going to keep earning every opportunity I get and just keep playing my game," he said.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @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.