THERE’S still a month to go until they drop the puck for real on a new NHL season. But the Winnipeg Jets will start stretching their legs and working off the summer rust when they kick off the new campaign later this week.
A five-day pro minicamp begins Thursday at Bell MTS Iceplex. Jets bench boss Paul Maurice and his staff will put 21 invited prospects and young players through their paces in advance of the official start of full training camp on Sept. 23. This essentially takes the place of what used to be known as development camp.
Among the notable participants are forwards Cole Perfetti, Kristian Vesalainen and David Gustafsson, and defencemen Ville Heinola and Dylan Samberg, who all have eyes on making a big step this year and becoming full-time NHLers. Vesalainen, Gustafsson and Heinola have already made their Jets debuts, while Perfetti and Samberg are on the cusp.
Other former draft picks participating include defencemen Declan Chisholm (2018), Johnathan Kovacevic (2017) and Leon Gawanke (2017), who is expected to represent Germany at the Winter Olympics in Beijing next February. All three played last year with the Manitoba Moose and are expected to take on bigger responsibilities with the farm team this year under the direction of new head coach Mark Morrison.
Fellow blue-liners and more recent draft picks Dmitri Kuzmin (2021), Tyrel Bauer (2020) and Simon Lundmark (2019), along with goaltender Arvid Holm (2017), are the others in early stages of their "draft and development" days as they attend camp for the first time.
Off-season free agent signings including forwards Evgeny Svechnikov, Austin Poganski, Luke Johnson and Mikey Eyssimont will also get their first taste of the organization. They will all be competing for depth spots with the big club this year. Moose/AHL regulars including forwards Kristian Reichel, Jeff Malott, Haralds Egle, Evan Polei and goaltender Philippe Desrosiers round out the field.
Due to COVID-19 protocols, fans will not be permitted inside the rink to watch the daily skates, as they have been in previous years. They will be able to observe through the glass from the lobby area.
The bulk of last year’s Jets roster — at least the ones who are currently in town — along with veteran free agent additions such as Nate Schmidt, Brenden Dillon and Riley Nash, will skate in a separate group on their own at Iceplex. NHL/NHLPA rules prohibit organized skates led by team coaches until camp officially begins a week later. At that point, the 21 players who skated in the minicamp will join 24 others for daily sessions that will run through Oct. 8.
The schedule also includes six pre-season games— three at Canada Life Centre in Winnipeg (Sept. 26, Sept. 29, Oct. 6), and one each in Edmonton (Oct. 2), Vancouver (Oct. 3) and Calgary (Oct. 8). Following that, the team will be cut down to a maximum 23 skaters as the 82-game regular season begins Oct. 13 in Anaheim. After additional stops in San Jose and Minnesota, the Jets return for their home opener against the Ducks Oct. 21.
Tickets are being sold for all preseason and regular-season games, with 100 per cent capacity allowed provided fans show proof they are fully vaccinated and adhere to ongoing health and safety protocols including wearing a mask at all times, except when eating or drinking at their seats.