April 21, 2019

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Opinion

Jets' recipe for success includes chips on shoulders

Winnipeg Jets goaltender Laurent Brossoit came to Winnipeg in the off-season as a free agent to try and get his career back on course after a few less-than-stellar seasons in Edmonton.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/TREVOR HAGAN

Winnipeg Jets goaltender Laurent Brossoit came to Winnipeg in the off-season as a free agent to try and get his career back on course after a few less-than-stellar seasons in Edmonton.

TAMPA BAY — Laurent Brossoit has one. Joe Morrow, too. Andrew Copp does as well. And now you can add Nathan Beaulieu to the growing list of Winnipeg Jets players who have one thing in common — a significant chip on their shoulder and a burning desire to prove others wrong.

It’s become the Winnipeg way of late, part of the recipe in trying to build a Stanley Cup contender. Take plenty of draft picks dripping with raw talent, sprinkle in a few free-agent signings and trade acquisitions, then surround them with a supporting cast who feel they weren’t given a fair shake.

Professional athletes can be motivated by many things — big-money contracts, championship pursuits and individual accolades among them. But don’t discount how much fuel to the fire can be added from being thrown to the scrap heap by one organization, your services no longer wanted or required.

“I think the biggest result of that would be Vegas last year, right?” Copp told me Monday as I brought up the issue with him. He makes a great point. The Golden Knights were built through the expansion draft, going all the way to the final against Washington in their expansion year and proving that one team’s trash can truly be another team’s treasure.

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TAMPA BAY — Laurent Brossoit has one. Joe Morrow, too. Andrew Copp does as well. And now you can add Nathan Beaulieu to the growing list of Winnipeg Jets players who have one thing in common — a significant chip on their shoulder and a burning desire to prove others wrong.

It’s become the Winnipeg way of late, part of the recipe in trying to build a Stanley Cup contender. Take plenty of draft picks dripping with raw talent, sprinkle in a few free-agent signings and trade acquisitions, then surround them with a supporting cast who feel they weren’t given a fair shake.

Winnipeg Jets' Nathan Beaulieu was a last-minute trade deadline acquisition by GM Kevin Cheveldayoff after spending most of the last season buried way down on the Buffalo Sabres' depth chart.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Winnipeg Jets' Nathan Beaulieu was a last-minute trade deadline acquisition by GM Kevin Cheveldayoff after spending most of the last season buried way down on the Buffalo Sabres' depth chart.

Professional athletes can be motivated by many things — big-money contracts, championship pursuits and individual accolades among them. But don’t discount how much fuel to the fire can be added from being thrown to the scrap heap by one organization, your services no longer wanted or required.

"I think the biggest result of that would be Vegas last year, right?" Copp told me Monday as I brought up the issue with him. He makes a great point. The Golden Knights were built through the expansion draft, going all the way to the final against Washington in their expansion year and proving that one team’s trash can truly be another team’s treasure.

"That’s a team full of guys that had a chip on their shoulder. And they kinda came together collectively over that, I would guess. So yeah, I think when you have a chip on your shoulder and feel that you’ve got something to prove, you always play a little bit better, Copp said.

He would know. Copp still seethes every time he thinks about being healthy-scratched by coach Paul Maurice in the last game of the Western Conference final last spring — and he’s brought it up, unsolicited, on several occasions this year in case you thought he might be over the slight.

Copp looks like an entirely different player this season, especially in recent weeks since he’s moved off the wing of a highly successful shutdown line with Adam Lowry and Brandon Tanev to centre his own trio.

Winnipeg Jets forward Andrew Copp was a healthy scratch by head coach Paul Maurice in the Jets season-ending Game 5 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference final last year.

JEFFREY T. BARNES / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILES

Winnipeg Jets forward Andrew Copp was a healthy scratch by head coach Paul Maurice in the Jets season-ending Game 5 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference final last year.

"I feel like you always play your best hockey when you have something to prove," Copp said. "That’s the role I ultimately want to be in. I believe I can be a third-line centre in the NHL."

Did you notice who Maurice threw out with Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele on Sunday night, his team hanging onto a two-goal lead but with Columbus coming on strong and their goalie pulled? There was Copp, replacing Patrik Laine for defensive purposes. And it paid off, too, as he helped set up Wheeler’s empty-net goal that iced a crucial road win over a desperate opponent.

"I think that Andrew understands now the value of that role, of how versatile he is for our team," Maurice said Monday. "Andrew Copp’s a huge part of our team now. It takes a young guy awhile to understand that your role is important no matter what the minutes are. That’s critical to winning, and it becomes a clear picture when you spend some time in the playoffs."

Beaulieu, playing on the top defensive pairing with Jacob Trouba in place of the injured Josh Morrissey, had two assists in the game. He’s been rock-solid since joining the Jets, making you wonder just what the heck was going on in Buffalo for them to bail on him.

"I think it kind of pushes everyone, gives everyone a little bit of a spark. Little bit of a chip on their shoulder, wanted to be part of a winner. Great contributions so far," said captain Blake Wheeler.

Brossoit is coming off a tremendous performance last Friday in which he subbed for a sickly Connor Hellebuyck as the Jets beat the Nashville Predators in a first-place showdown. The Edmonton Oilers castoff has salvaged what looked to be a crumbling career, proving he has what it takes to an NHL goaltender.

Morrow joined the Jets at last year’s trade deadline from Montreal, then scored the biggest goal of his life in leading Winnipeg to its first-ever franchise playoff win. He has been solid depth this year when called upon, although he’s currently injured.

Even Dmitry Kulikov seems to be playing with some new-found passion lately, after a few rough games which had social media in a frenzy, demanding that he benched or bought out. There was Kulikov on Sunday night setting up Wheeler’s second period goal with a nifty point shot, then stepping up to fight Nick Foligno after he crushed Scheifele with a questionable hit.

There have been times this season where the Jets appeared to be in serious need of motivation. Sure, they were still racking up points, but there seemed to be something missing. But since the calender flipped to March last week, there’s been a noticeable change in pace and attitude.

And there’s no doubt some of these so-called reclamation projects are playing a vital role.

"I think right after the trade deadline, too, you get some new bodies in here. They seem to fit in pretty well, on the ice and in the room. Any time you can get that team bond going together and you can get on a road trip and get a few wins against some good teams, that’s going to make you feel better about ourselves and our game. And this is the time of year when you want to start playing well. You try to get on a roll here in March and just ride that into the playoffs. You don’t want to be limping in. It’s important we find some consistency over the next while," said Copp.

I asked Maurice just how much a coach can tap into the mindset of a player like Beaulieu, drafted 17th overall in 2011 but still trying to find his way in the NHL eight years later, now on his third franchise.

"In general, players come into the league with a perception of who they are. And if they don’t become that player with that organization, it’s usually not until the next organization or maybe even one more until they accept a different style of game. You see really skilled guys come in, they need to play with skilled players, they just need a chance, you hear that an awful lot. Except it turns out there’s more skilled guys ahead of them and they get a different role or a limited role than what they want to do. They got to the next place and they accept that when it happens," said Maurice.

Anger, denial and a host of other feelings have clearly gone through the minds of players like Beaulieu. But as long as that emotion is being channelled in a positive way, it can certainly be a powerful force.

And for a Jets team trying to prove it has what it takes, that may bode well down the road.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Reporter

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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