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This article was published 1/12/2018 (925 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
NEWARK, N.J. – It would have been apropos for Mason Appleton’s main-stage debut to come tonight in the Big Apple, just off Broadway.
But the 22-year-old from Green Bay, Wis., didn’t care where or when it happened -- just that it happened.
And he made his big night count.
Suiting up for the first game of his NHL career Saturday night in New Jersey, Appleton earned an assist and put in a solid performance patrolling the right wall on the fourth line with second-year centre Jack Roslovic and veteran Mathieu Perreault.
He set up Andrew Copp's third-period goal to give the Jets a 3-1 lead with 6:39 left in the third period.
Appleton said he wasn't shocked by the pace of the NHL game.
"I didn't notice a huge difference, honestly. I think it was a little more controlled, a little more systematic than I'm used to. For me, with a good brain it was easy to adjust to that. It's a slightly different game, a little more skilled, but I thought I did a good job settling in five or 10 minutes into the game, keeping it simple, doing the little things effectively," he said. "I liked my game.
"It's huge to win that game but your first point is something you don't forget, in your first game, too."
Someone collected the puck out of the net for the Appleton mantle.
"Alright. I'll grab that later," he said, laughing.
The Jets meet the New York Rangers tonight at Madison Square Garden. Game time is 5 p.m. CT.
Roslovic's trio generated a terrific scoring chance of its own early in the first period and then promptly went minus-1 when Marcus Johansson opened the scoring for the Devils. Appleton finished his memorable night at Prudential Center with eight minutes, 36 seconds of ice time.
Whether or not Appleton gets career game No.2 remains to be seen. Any alterations to Winnipeg’s lineup won’t become public until head coach Paul Maurice addresses the media this afternoon.
Appleton, the American Hockey League's rookie of the year last season, was called up from the Manitoba Moose on Monday but had been a healthy scratch for a pair of Jets’ home games in last week.
He’s been Manitoba’s offensive driver this season with eight goals and 10 assists.
"It's very exciting. I haven't really had a chance to tell family yet, but I'm sure they'll be excited, too. First game, obviously, something you dream of," said the shifty forward, listed at 6-2, 193 pounds, who was selected by the Jets in the sixth round (168th overall) in the 2015 NHL Draft.
He had two productive seasons at the Michigan State University and then joined the Moose, leading the team in point production with 22 goals and 66 points in his first pro campaign.
"(Winnipeg head coach Paul Maurice) pulled me out of the locker room right after the meeting and said I was playing tonight," Appleton had told reporters, following the morning skate. "It was a lot of talk of ‘Just keep it simple,’ and ‘It’s your first game so really enjoy it. You’re not gonna sign a 10-year deal after tonight and you’re not gonna get cut, hopefully, so just go make the most of it.’"
Indeed, Maurice offered the speedy winger his tradition pre-debut 'savour the moment' speech.
"It's pretty standard. You talk to any of these guys, especially when they get older and say, 'Tell me about your first game?' They can tell you where it was, what the score was, and some guys will say, 'I really don't remember anything about it.' As soon as the game ended, it was a blur.
"They'll remember it forever, regardless of what kind of career they have."
Perreault offered a veteran presence on the line, while Roslovic and Appleton played chunks of last season together with the Moose.
"There's some chemistry there. It almost guarantees there'll be somebody talking to Mason on the bench and that's what you need to not necessarily calm the nerves but talk about plays. Somebody there with that comfort level will be important for him," said Maurice.
Meanwhile, Copp was been cleared to play and returned to the lineup after missing three games with a concussion. He rejoined his usual linemates, Lowry and Brandon Tanev.
A pair of wingers, Nic Petan and Brendan Lemieux, were healthy scratches.
The Jets went with the same blue-line core that yielded five goals to Chicago on Thursday. Moose regulars Cam Schilling and Sami Niku were in the lineup with Dustin Byfuglien (concussion), Joe Morrow (lower body) and Dmitry Kulikov (upper body) all sidelined.
Morrow was placed on the injured-reserve list late Friday and the club called up Nelson Nogier from the Moose to fill his spot on the roster. Kulikov is with the club but skated in a yellow non-contact jersey Saturday morning.
Nikolaj Ehlers is coming off his third career hat-trick Thursday in the Jets’ 6-5 win over the Chicago Blackhawks, including a breakaway goal midway through the final period that proved to be the game winner.
It’s a poorly kept secret the dynamic, Danish-born winger doesn’t flash his best stuff when he walks in alone. His crazy speed frees him up for more breakaway chances than most forwards, yet he’s only scored twice on the clear dash this season.
He isn’t a guy immediately called upon by head coach Paul Maurice during shootouts, either.
So he was pretty jacked after beating Chicago goalie Corey Crawford with a low shot through the pads on a slick but uncomplicated move he’s ruminated on for some time.
"Sometimes you (work on things), but you also look at how other guys in the league and on our team do it. The (move) last game was something me and (Blake Wheeler) have talked about for a year now and I think I’ve only tried it once. It went in. So I was pretty happy about it," said Ehlers on his third goal of the night on Crawford and eighth of the year.
"I looked up before I got down to shoot it and I saw five-hole was a little open there. I’ve watched some video of (Chicago captain) Jonathan Toews do it and Wheels came to me and said, ‘Try it’ and I did that... just pulled it from backhand to forehand and tried to get it between his legs as quick as possible."
He was kept off the scoresheet Saturday in New Jersey.
Ehlers, who has played all 82 games in each of the past two seasons, is coming off 25- and 29-goal campaigns, respectively. But the book on him is he’s a streaky scorer. He started the season going nine games without a goal – in fact, he was stuck in a 26-game drought that began late last winter and lasted throughout the playoffs.
Despite plenty of positive feedback from the coaching staff, Ehlers said it’s tough to gauge success without the stats to back it up, particularly when you’ve been a go-to guy at every level of your development.
"I haven’t had the best start but it’s beginning to get better and I’m playing way better than the start of the season. So, I feel good right now. It’s going the right way. I just have to keep working at it," he said.
"You obviously want to help the team be successful any way you can. And when you’re not productive, you gotta find ways to do that. Sometimes, it sucks, it’s a grind. And sometimes it’s going great for you and you’re scoring goals and getting points and all that," he said.
He now has eight goals in his last 15 contests while playing predominantly on the top line with centre Mark Scheifele and set-up specialist Blake Wheeler.
"They two amazing players. You look at every single game of those two and they have huge chances, they play great defensively, they do all the small things right and that’s what creates offence," said Ehlers.
Assistant sports editor
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).