March 22, 2019

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Jets defenceman preaching what he practices

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS</p><p>Winnipeg’s Ben Chiarot slams Ottawa’s Brady Tkachuk Saturday night at Bell MTS Place.</p>

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Winnipeg’s Ben Chiarot slams Ottawa’s Brady Tkachuk Saturday night at Bell MTS Place.

DESCRIPTORS like ‘veteran’ and ‘mentor’ tossed around Saturday barely compute when it comes to Winnipeg Jets defenceman Ben Chiarot.

Wasn’t it, like, mere months ago the Hamilton product started taking direction from senior on-ice advisor Dustin Byfuglien? Four years ago, you say? Come on...

“This is my fifth year now (though) it seems like I just started last week, so it’s gone by pretty fast,” the Jets’ left-shot blue-liner said following the team’s morning skate.

Hours later, he was the elder statesman on a pairing with Sami Niku against the sad-sack Ottawa Senators.

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DESCRIPTORS like ‘veteran’ and ‘mentor’ tossed around Saturday barely compute when it comes to Winnipeg Jets defenceman Ben Chiarot.

Wasn’t it, like, mere months ago the Hamilton product started taking direction from senior on-ice advisor Dustin Byfuglien? Four years ago, you say? Come on...

"This is my fifth year now (though) it seems like I just started last week, so it’s gone by pretty fast," the Jets’ left-shot blue-liner said following the team’s morning skate.

Hours later, he was the elder statesman on a pairing with Sami Niku against the sad-sack Ottawa Senators.

"When you have a young guy like that come in, you just want to support him and talk to him and try and help him out as much as you can. I’ll do my part in the (defensive) zone to make it easy for him," Chiarot said. "He’s obviously here because he’s got great offensive tools and he moves the puck really well, so try and get him the puck in some good offensive situations and let him do his thing.

"I’ve had great partners over the time I’ve been here and I’ll try and keep that going with Sami."

Niku’s last game with the big club was Jan. 28 in Philadelphia, a 3-1 loss to the Flyers. After that, he was a healthy scratch for seven games before being reassigned to the Manitoba Moose last week. The young Finnish defenceman’s stay in the AHL was brief, as he was recalled by the Jets on Friday.

Byfuglien is banged up again, although an extended absence from the Winnipeg lineup is not anticipated. He came up lame Thursday after a battle in the corner with Colorado forward Mikko Rantanen, missed a couple of shifts but did play the third period.

The expectation is Byfuglien will be ready to go Wednesday against the Avalanche in Denver.

But back to Chiarot, who clarifies Byfuglien actually started barking out orders during the 2014-15 season and, as of Thursday, really hadn’t curtailed his in-game instruction and recommendations. That’s just the 13-year NHLer’s gregarious nature.

Yet, it’s hard to grasp the notion of Chiarot as an NHL warhorse, no slight intended. It just seems like he hasn’t been around that long, hasn’t played enough, still battles for ice time.

Such is not the case for a guy three months shy of his 28th birthday, who suited up Saturday night for the 282nd game of his NHL career and is a fixture on the Central Division squad’s blue line, averaging nearly 18½ minutes of ice time per outing.

Rarely flashy, the 6-3, 220-pound rearguard is the kind of sound, steady and physical defenceman his coach doesn’t really have to fret over. He’s also chipped in a career-high four goals (he had his fifth erased on an off-side challenge Saturday) and helped set up nine others.

Maurice said the blue-line buddy system doesn’t just help youngsters like Niku adjust to their job with the Jets, it benefits the tutor, too.

"It opens a player’s mind to the game a lot more. When you have to teach something, it’s completely different. You’re put in a situation to be aware of so many more things that are happening, you become aware of your partner when you’re talking to him about different plays. Being a mentor on the bench is the best way for us to be sure (Chiarot’s) learning," said Maurice.

"It’s a really good thing when you can get a guy who’s got enough experience and can play with a guy, talking to him on the bench, and if he truly understands the game that’s where all the best coaching comes from — the bench. The guy sitting beside you, all the small little details that aren’t coaches’ area of expertise, those are the things that you learn from players. It’s really good for (Chiarot), for his confidence and his maturity, to be put in a position where he has to teach."

Niku, the AHL’s defenceman of the year during his rookie 2017-18 campaign, has been partnered with Cam Schilling for one-plus seasons with the Moose, and he’s most comfortable with that experience and know-how close by.

"I really like playing with (Chiarot). He’s so good in the (defensive) zone and he helps me a lot. He talks a lot out there," said Niku, who played his 12th game of the season and just the 13th of his NHL career. "(It helps) with my own game, to be fast, make good passes and be good in the D-zone."

Dmitry Kulikov also returned to the Winnipeg blue line Saturday.

The Jets also recalled defenceman Tucker Poolman from Manitoba on Saturday morning.

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
Assistant sports editor

Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).

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