It hasn’t exactly been an open casting call when it comes to the competition on the Winnipeg Jets blue-line. But it appears a job remains up for grabs as the club heads down the stretch.

It hasn’t exactly been an open casting call when it comes to the competition on the Winnipeg Jets blue-line. But it appears a job remains up for grabs as the club heads down the stretch.

Coach Paul Maurice declared a few weeks ago that he would employ a rotation of defencemen in the third-pairing spot beside Dylan DeMelo. And that seemed to be the case, at least to start.

Ville Heinola suited up for the April 15 game in Toronto, a 5-2 victory, and played 12:34. Logan Stanley took his spot two nights later in a 3-0 loss to Edmonton in which he saw 12:54 of ice time. Next up was Jordie Benn on Apr. 22, making his Winnipeg debut following a trade deadline addition, in a 5-3 defeat to Toronto where he played 11:30.

Back to Heinola for the next one, right? Wrong. The 20-year-old Finn hasn’t seen the lineup since that brief look. Stanley played April 24 (4-1 loss to Toronto), and then Benn got the next three games on April 26 (6-1 loss to Edmonton) April 28 (3-1 loss to Edmonton) and Apr. 30 (5-3 loss to Montreal).

On Monday night in Ottawa, it was back to Stanley.

"As a competitor, no one wants to get taken out of the lineup. You want to play every night, every game and in all situations. That’s never enjoyable. But I think you’ve got to be a good pro about it and take every day as trying to get better. Whether it’s in the gym or on the ice, just try and get better. So when you do get another shot that you’re ready to go and your game’s right," Stanley said following the morning skate.

The towering 22-year-old rookie has opened plenty of eyes this season, now skating in 34 NHL games and counting. He made an impact early in the 2-1 loss to the Senators, rocking defenceman Thomas Chabot with a first-period hit that knocked him out of the game with an upper-body injury.

"I’ve got to play my game, which is simple and good defensively and playing yard. I just have to control what I can control and try to be the best that I can," Stanley said prior to puck drop at Canadian Tire Centre.

"I think confidence is a big thing. Being able to play in a bunch of games this year. Developing and feeling more comfortable out there. I think every year since I’ve been drafted, since I started in the OHL, it’s been my skating. I think that continues to develop and that’s helping me have success this year."

Still, he admits there’s perhaps a bit more pressure these days, with the team mired in a funk, internal competition brewing and only five more games until the playoffs.

"I think there’s pressure with every game, especially when you’re a younger guy trying to solidify yourself in the lineup. There’s definitely pressure. I think having played a few games this year, I’ve got my feet wet and am more comfortable with it now. Just knowing that I have to go out and work hard and try to be physical and play good defence, that’s what’s going to keep me in the lineup, I think," said Stanley.

"I think everyone wants to play in the playoffs. They’d be lying to you if they said they didn’t. Or I don’t think they’d be in the NHL if they said they didn’t want to be in the playoff lineup. Definitely I want to. Just going to have to play good (Monday night) and try to get on a roll."

As for Heinola, Maurice was asked Monday morning whether the smooth-skating sophomore will get another crack.

"I needed to get a look at Jordie here just on a consecutive set of games, and I like what I saw. He’s got some good poise with the puck and he moved it. Those two guys were pretty darn clean together. We feel that Stan has something when he’s on his A game that makes him a little bit different than everybody else because he does move the puck very well for a big man. And we’re going to get into a heavy series one way or the other," said Maurice.

"When you look at your potential opponents, they got some high-end skill, but they’ve also got some weight in their lineup now. But I do think that toward the end here that you’re going to see Ville again."

Stanley brings impressive size and a penchant for putting pucks on net, while the 33-year-old Benn is the veteran presence Maurice seems to love. The Jets are carrying one other defenceman, who appears to be a complete afterthought at this point. That would be 24-year-old Sami Niku, who has appeared in just six games this season — and none since his last appearance way back on March 1.

Maurice made one other lineup change on Monday with Adam Lowry returning from a head/neck injury. Kristian Vesalainen stayed in, skating on a fourth line with Nate Thompson and Trevor Lewis, while Jansen Harkins came out. Both players have one assist this year — Vesalainen in his first 11 games, Harkins in 22.

"It’s getting higher and higher every game I play. I feel pretty good out there," Vesalainen said of his current confidence level after spending extended stints with both the taxi squad and the Manitoba Moose.

"Obviously it’s not easy but you’re working hard every day. You know when you get the chance you’re going to play good because we’re not playing that much, we’re working really hard out there. When we get the chance, we know we’re in good shape to play," he said.

"We don’t have too many games left in the regular season, so I just have to play as good as I can and don’t have to worry about it. I’ve trained a lot so I think that’s where my confidence comes from."

One other young player in the organization right now who is filled with confidence is 19-year-old Cole Perfetti, who was named the AHL’s rookie of the month on Monday. The 10th-overall pick from the 2020 NHL draft had four goals and nine assists in nine games.

Perfetti wouldn’t normally even be eligible to play for the Moose if not for the fact the Ontario Hockey League didn’t have a season due to COVID-19. Whether he gets a late-season look by the Jets, or has to wait until training camp next fall, remains to be seen.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @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.

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