He has yet to play a game for the Winnipeg Jets, but the acquisition of defenceman Dylan DeMelo is already getting rave reviews from his new teammates.
The 26-year-old is expected to make his debut on Thursday night in Ottawa as Winnipeg begins a four-game road trip. DeMelo will be facing the Senators squad he was just traded from on Tuesday in exchange for a third round pick in the 2020 draft.
Jets coach Paul Maurice called up good friend Peter DeBoer to a quick scouting report on DeMelo. DeBoer, now the bench boss of the Vegas Golden Knights, coached DeMelo in San Jose prior to his move to Ottawa as part of the Erik Karlsson trade in 2018.
"The hockey part was simple. He said he's a real effective player. That's the right descriptive word. More importantly he said, 'This guy's salt of the earth. He's just a good man that's had nothing given to him, that he's worked really, really hard to get to the NHL,'" said Maurice.
Winnipeg's blue-line has been battered this season, with the departures of Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot, plus a number of injuries to those tasked with trying to fill the holes. DeMelo is expected to step into a top four role, likely paired with either Josh Morrissey or Dmitry Kulikov.
"Our guys playing the off side have done a really good job for us this year. But a right-handed shot. Makes your transition better. What he's good at is all parts of the game, without being able to identify him as, 'This is the strongest thing that he does.' That in itself, the all-around game," said Maurice.
"He can move the puck well, he'll get to it first. It's not the same player, but it's a version of what Neal (Pionk) does so well. He'll go back and touch it first, he moves the puck well. He doesn't have a hard time finding his man in the D-zone. He sorts that out real good. He's got a real good stick on him. He's just a real-good, all-around defenceman."
Jets centre Mark Scheifele is looking forward to catching up with an old friend from back home in Ontario.
"I played against him all minor hockey, probably from when I was seven until I was 16. Obviously he’s a very special defenceman. He was growing up, he was always the best defenceman in our league. It’ll be cool to reminisce about some memories that probably both of us don’t remember too much," said Scheifele.
"He’s solid. He moves well, always in the right spot. A reliable defensive player and he’s a good first pass guy. We’re excited to meet him in Ottawa and he’ll be welcome with open arms."
General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff is on record and saying he wants to reward this hard-working group, which sit just one point out of a playoff spot with 21 regular-season games left to play. And that is certainly appreciated by those in the room.
"Exciting. He’s an NHL defenceman, a guy that’s going to help solidify our back end and give us another able body. We’ve got a collection of guys that are really capable back there of getting the job done, they’ve done a heck of a job for us so far this year. He’s going to add to that mix and just make us more formidable," said captain Blake Wheeler.
The trade deadline is next Monday, and Cheveldayoff suggested he might not be done dealing just yet. Another depth defenceman and some forward help remain on the shopping list, provided the price is right.
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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