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From long shot to a project

Late-blooming Appleton still honing his game, but Jets can't help but like what they see

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Mason Appleton practises during the Winnipeg Jets Development Camp at IcePlex Wednesday morning. </p>

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Mason Appleton practises during the Winnipeg Jets Development Camp at IcePlex Wednesday morning.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 6/7/2016 (1500 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Apart from the red top, Mason Appleton blends right in with all the prospects and projects and long shots at the Winnipeg Jets development camp.

His is not an uncommon story, passed over in the NHL Draft but then selected as a 19-year-old. The Jets did that in the sixth round last June and what they got might well turn out to be another late-bloomer success story.

The Green Bay, Wis., native was a multi-sport youngster who had the overtime winning goal in the state hockey championship, but his 6-2 height came only after some late growth.

After a year in the USHL, he arrived at Michigan State last fall and immediately found coach Tom Anastos had put a lot on his plate, including time at all three forward positions.

'I think consistency will be a big thing for me this year. I'm going to be relied on a lot so I have to be that guy for 60 minutes every night and that'll give our team the best chance to win and have success'‐ Michigan State forward Mason Appleton

"Going into the year I wasn’t too sure what to expect personally from the team standpoint but I was put in situations where I was on the ice a ton," Appleton said Wednesday after a Paul Maurice-run camp practice at the MTS Iceplex. "I played top-six minutes, power play and penalty killing so I was doing it all and I really liked that.

"I thought I had a strong year, personally, but as a team we dropped some games that we shouldn’t have. We had a couple of setbacks and some injuries, but you can’t blame a season on injuries.

"I think we’ll be deeper this coming year. So I can see a better team record and I’ll be put in similar roles, man the power play and play top-six minutes, 20 minutes a night probably, and be strong on the penalty kill and reliable in the D zone. So I’m interested to see how this upcoming season’s going to go."

His freshman year brought a modest five goals —two of them were game-winners — and 22 points in 37 games for the Spartans.

His reputation certainly did not include taking the easy way out of any situation on a team that struggled to 10-23-4.

The routine of college hockey, games only on the weekends, agreed with Appleton’s rhythm.

"In the USHL there were some weekday games, but not to many, but that was 60 games instead of 34," he said. "And the lifting aspect was a lot more in college; we trained harder off ice. And from a guy with my build, I liked that. I was able to maintain my weight better throughout the season.

"Then you could really prepare yourself for the weekends because you had four good days of practice leading into them."

Judgments on players at development camp are almost always risky and inaccurate, but you could contemplate this observation from Tuesday night’s intrasquad scrimmage.

In that game, Appleton had a goal and an assist. He skated between two of the bluest blue-chippers the Jets have at this camp, 2015 first-rounder Kyle Connor and Brendan Lemieux, the 31st pick of the 2014 draft and made his contributions to one dangerous night for that trio.

"I think consistency will be a big thing for me this year," he said about heading for his second season at Michigan State. "I’m going to be relied on a lot so I have to be that guy for 60 minutes every night and that’ll give our team the best chance to win and have success."

Appleton said that a year under the Jets’ umbrella has been a benefit.

"Every weekend I send them a little report on how I played," he said.

"We probably stay in contact every week, every two weeks, so that was good. You get good feedback from them. And they were at games every third weekend so I was able to talk to them after games. We stayed in close contact throughout the majority of the season, which was nice.

"I definitely think that is (a good thing). If you’re not getting talked to at all, you kind of start guessing at things like, ‘What am I doing wrong?’ or ‘What am I doing right?’ So that was good to always know what I need to work on, what I’m doing well, those types of things."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

 

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History

Updated on Wednesday, July 6, 2016 at 9:57 PM CDT: Tweaks headline.

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