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Gritty Perreault off to strong start

Veteran forward has a goal and two assists in first three games, eager to shore up defence

VANCOUVER — Mathieu Perreault is picking up right where he left off last spring.

The veteran forward has scored once and added a pair of assists in the first three games of the 2017-18 NHL season for the Winnipeg Jets, although he and linemates Bryan Little and Patrik Laine were blanked Monday night in Edmonton.

He’s on a point-a-game pace but, like most of his teammates, has strides to take on the defensive side.

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BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Mathieu Perreault is playing at a point-per-game pace so far this season, but is also a -2 in plus-minus.</p>

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Mathieu Perreault is playing at a point-per-game pace so far this season, but is also a -2 in plus-minus.

VANCOUVER — Mathieu Perreault is picking up right where he left off last spring.

The veteran forward has scored once and added a pair of assists in the first three games of the 2017-18 NHL season for the Winnipeg Jets, although he and linemates Bryan Little and Patrik Laine were blanked Monday night in Edmonton.

He’s on a point-a-game pace but, like most of his teammates, has strides to take on the defensive side.

Perreault finished up an injury-plagued 2016-17 campaign as one of Winnipeg’s most productive performers. He fired nine goals and collected 28 points in the final 25 games, just one point shy of the team’s leading point man, centre Mark Scheifele, during the same stretch.

A 45-point total was a career high for the nine-year veteran, who was sidelined for 17 games because of illness, a fractured thumb and a back injury. That’s nothing new for the injury-prone 29-year-old from Drummondville, Que.

The closest he’s come to playing a full 82-game season was two years ago when he hit the 71-game mark with the Jets.

At 5-10, 188 pounds, he is considered a smaller player by NHL standards, but is gritty, plays with an edge and doesn’t hesitate to invade the dirty areas of the ice. Lately, he’s been tasked with crowding the front of the crease on Winnipeg’s second power-play unit and has been clunked three or four times on different body parts from friendly fire.

Playing that gritty style has severely hindered Perreault’s durability. But when he’s physically sound, he’s an impactful, offensive player.

"I’m working and doing everything I can to help this team win," Perreault said on Monday, prior to the Jets’ tilt with the Oilers in Edmonton.

"Confidence is a really big thing in this game and I’m feeling a lot of that right now."

Perreault, who signed a four-year, US$16.5-million contract extension in the summer of 2016, has settled in as a top-six winger with the Central Division squad after a few turns at centre with limited success. He’s also been one of Jets head coach Paul Maurice’s go-to guys in man-advantage situations.

Perreault said he’s most comfortable skating on the wing, and has a more thorough grasp of the defensive responsibilities that come with it.

"I started two years here as a centre and it always took me a while to get going. It didn’t really work out there, and then every time I got moved to the wing this is where I kind of took off and played better," he said. "As long as I feel like I’m helping the team and am being put out there to do a job, whether it’s scoring or checking, I’m happy."

Jets captain Blake Wheeler said Perreault’s tenacity and compete level is infectious.

"He brings it every single shift. A guy like that, with whoever he plays with, you’re going to get that effort on the left side. He’s great on the forecheck and never gives up on pucks," Wheeler said.

"He’s a nice guy to get that consistency out of every single day.

"There aren’t guys like him just falling off trees. The more guys like him you can get to stay put and buy in and want to be around here and be a part of it, the better we’re going to be."

Perreault has finished a minus-11 in each of the past two seasons, unattractive numbers for a guy who maintains he tries to be accountable in both ends of the rink. He’s already a minus-two after three contests, although the Jets (1-2-0) only have five players on the plus side of the ledger.

"So far, I’m still a minus and that’s not good. I take pride and want to improve on that," Perreault said. "I’m battling really hard to keep pucks out of my net. And I think it’s the mindset we should all have here. It’s always fun to produce, but the offence is going to come. We’ve got to find a way to cut down on the pucks that go in on us."

While he works to find that balance, Perr­eault is also balancing a lot of added responsibility at home.

He and his wife, Jennilie, who already have a toddler, Violette, welcomed twins Penelope and Hector a few weeks ago.

"It’s hard right now. We get help during the day but at night it’s just me and my wife. So, the sleep’s a little different. They’re so little, so it’s just feeding and then sleep," Perreault said. "I change diapers at night and she’ll feed them and I’ll wake up and do that for 10 or 15 minutes, so it’s not too bad. She’s up for hours but I still get to sleep. She’s really good about it. She knows I need my rest.

"Once summertime comes, she’ll get me back."

jason.bell@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @WFPJasonBell

 

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