The list of Winnipeg Jets players and coaches who havent tested positive for COVID-19 is quickly shrinking. And the revolving door when it comes to the roster is rapidly accelerating.
Four more members of the organization entered NHL protocol on Thursday, including forward Paul Stastny, defenceman Brenden Dillon, goaltender Eric Comrie and assistant coach Wade Flaherty. All must now quarantine for a minimum of five days but can re-join the club as long as they are free of symptoms.
Stastny learned of his diagnosis prior to boarding the charter on Wednesday for Detroit, so he remains home with his family. The other three received their results Thursday morning in Michigan, where they now remain. They will likely join the Jets early next week in Washington when the club continues what has turned into a nearly month-long, eight-game road trip broken into three segments which include pit stops and practices back in Winnipeg. Six scheduled home games have been postponed due to capacity restrictions at Canada Life Centre.
Forwards Nikolaj Ehlers and Kristian Reichel, and defencemen Logan Stanley, Nathan Beaulieu and Ville Heinola got the virus earlier this week and are currently sidelined until at least this weekend. Throw in the fact captain Blake Wheeler and young centre David Gustafsson are out with injuries and thats 10 skaters who werent available to interim coach Dave Lowry as the Jets faced the Red Wings.
All of which led to three fresh faces being called up from the American Hockey League making their Jets debuts in Motown. Defencemen Dylan Samberg and Declan Chisholm both skated in their first-ever NHL games, while 25-year-old forward Austin Poganski who leads the Manitoba Moose in scoring with 20 points in 30 games dressed for just the seventh NHL contest of his career (the previous six with the St. Louis Blues).
Its a dream come true, obviously. Ive been looking forward to this my entire life, Chisholm, who turned 22 on Wednesday, said following the morning skate. No doubt in my mind this is the best present Ive had.
The Ontario product was selected in the fifth round of the 2018 NHL Draft and has six goals and eight assists in 27 games with the Moose this year. He tested positive for COVID-19 last week, prior to the Moose heading on the road, but has fully recovered. He was expecting a large contingent of family to drive across the border to witness his big moment.
Im pretty excited that they can come and its close enough, said Chisholm, who was paired with Nate Schmidt on the blue line.
(Schmidt is) very outgoing, always in a great mood. Hes cracking jokes with everyone. He makes you feel like youre part of the team right away. Hes a veteran player and I think I can learn a lot off him and Im excited to play with him.
Despite the new batch of positive tests, the COVID-19 news surrounding the Jets wasnt entirely negative Thursday. Forward Jansen Harkins and defenceman Dylan DeMelo were both out of protocol and in the lineup. They got the virus on Jan. 6 in Denver, missing the game against the Avalanche that night, and had to remain behind in the Mile High City. Taxi squad goaltender Arvid Holm and video coach Matt Prefontaine were in the same boat.
Harkins was the first to clear Tuesday, and he flew to Detroit to get in a couple on-ice workouts to get his conditioning back. DeMelo joined him and the rest of the Jets on Wednesday. Holm has since returned to the Moose, while Prefontaine is back in action as well.
I made it almost two years without getting it. At this point, it seems kind of inevitable with the rate that it is spreading, Harkins said, prior to puck drop.
Rather than skate by himself this week as he waited for his teammates to arrive, Harkins joined up with former NHLer and Moose alumnus Ryan Kesler, who happened to be in the same city. The meet-up was arranged by his agent.
It was pretty cool experience for me, said Harkins. It was better than just going out there mindlessly skating laps. Pretty awesome that he came out. Awesome player, really good guy. Asked him a lot of questions and tried to pick his brain, the little things like on the walls, face-offs, finding open ice and just stuff like that that you dont really learn while playing and experience. It was really cool.
Harkins said it was nice to only have to spend five days holed up in his Denver hotel rather than the 10 days required prior to recent changes both in Canada and the United States.
Jets forwards Andrew Copp and Kristian Vesalainen both tested positive on Dec. 21 and, ultimately, didnt miss a game because of the revamped protocols, combined with an extended holiday break. Contrast that with Wheeler and centre Mark Scheifele, who got the virus in mid-October and ultimately missed five games each.
You do what you can. The first couple of days youre just trying to see how it comes at you and get through it, said Harkins.
For the most part, didnt have many symptoms. Felt good. I was able to kind of get some in-room exercises going. Obviously, its not the best circumstance, not the best position to be in but at the end of the day missed one game. Get the opportunity to go out and play (Thursday night), especially when youve been sitting in a room by yourself for a week, get to be around the guys again, love to play hockey. It might be a little rusty with the lungs here but just excited to be back and give it a go.
There have now been 15 players and two coaches enter COVID-19 protocols while up with the Jets since the season began in October. That doesnt include No. 1 netminder Connor Hellebuyck, who tested positive just prior to training camp. And the list is even longer if you include those who got it while down with the Moose, including Chisholm.
Were fortunate here in Winnipeg that they can call guys up and have great players come up and play with the team, Chisholm said of trying to seize the opportunity. That goes to show the organization has a lot of great development through it and guys are ready.
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.