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This article was published 18/9/2019 (1013 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It looked like a mismatch on paper. And it ended up playing out that way on the ice.
A Winnipeg Jets team heavy with experienced players easily took care of a pretty raw group of Minnesota Wild prospects, skating to a 4-1 victory on Wednesday night at Bell MTS Place.
Jets head coach Paul Maurice said he was focused on the process rather than the finished product and saw some encouraging signs with how his group moved the puck. That’s going to be a key area, especially with so much turnover on the blue line.
"I thought we were right there. I liked how we moved, how we moved the puck," said Maurice.
The Jets are 1-1-0 in their seven game pre-season schedule after dropping a 2-0 decision to the Oilers Monday night in Edmonton.
Miss the first couple minutes? You missed a lot.
Andrew Copp opened the scoring just 59 seconds into the game, taking a stretch pass from defenceman Sami Niku and beating Wild goalie Kaapo Kahkonen with a long-distance wrister. Copp was hampered by a mild groin strain at the start of training camp last weekend but looked fine playing on a line with Adam Lowry and Blake Wheeler.
"Copp, Lowry and Wheeler are going to be a pretty good line on any day, but in exhibition maybe even more so. They’re all guys that play the exact same way every night," said Maurice.
The trio combined to make it 2-0 just 38 seconds later, as Copp set up Wheeler for his first of the pre-season.
"It felt good to see a couple go in and be involved offensively and pick up where I left off last year," said Copp, who is looking to carve out an even bigger role with the Jets this season and may have plenty of opportunity to do that with Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor still without new contracts.
Goaltender Laurent Brossoit wasn’t very busy, especially early in the game. He faced just five shots in the opening frame, and didn’t see a puck come his way in the second period until it was nearly 11 minutes old. He finished with 20 saves.
Nico Sturm was the only Wild player to beat him, knocking home his own rebound near the midway mark of the third.
But Josh Morrissey, the quarterback of the top power-play unit as long as Dustin Byfuglien remains away from the team on a personal leave of absence, restored the two-goal lead with a blast from the point after some nice puck movement from Wheeler and Mark Scheifele.
"First time we’ve done it, we haven’t even practised it. There were definitely some good things to build off, there was definitely a little bit of rust there in terms of some of the plays we made. But overall it’s exciting, there’s some new wrinkles we can add to that power play and it’s a fresh look," said Wheeler.
C.J. Suess sealed it with an empty-netter in the final minute.
SAMI NIKU: there was a lot to like about the smooth-skating Niku’s game. His first assist on Copp’s goal was a thing of beauty, and he had a helper on Wheeler’s snipe as well. He also handled a physical Minnesota forecheck well, spinning out of trouble on several occasions and impressing his coach.
"In the first period he had two or three good evasions there down low where he got away from a hit. I don’t know if I look at that anymore. Clearly we did when he first came up. And then part way through his tour last year it became clear, in my mind, that he had figured out how to build some of what Josh Morrissey does so well in his game," said Maurice.
Niku played 20:59 while grouped on the top defence pairing with Morrissey and looks ready to take on a big role with the Jets once the season begins.
TUCKER POOLMAN: for a player who missed nearly two months with a concussion last seeing, seeing Poolman drop the gloves and absorb several blows to the head, leaving him bloodied, was tough to watch.
He stood up for teammate Kristian Reichel, who was on the receiving end of a big hit from Minnesota’s Mike Liambis (who earlier tried to put Dmitry Kulikov through the boards). Fortunately, Poolman was otherwise unscathed.
The rearguard finished with two shots, two hits and two blocks in 16:05 of action.
ANDREI CHIBISOV: playing his second straight game of the pre-season, the big Russian shifted to the right wing and skated on a line with Scheifele and Mathieu Perreault. He whiffed on an open net on his first shift, then used his powerful frame to throw a heavy hit later in the period. Chibisov also did some good work down low in the cycle in the second period, creating a scoring chance for Scheifele.
Chibisov also had a lovely backhanded dish to Scheifele later in the game, but the No. 1 centre was stopped by Wild goaltender Mat Robson. Chibisov ended the night with two shots on goal and one hit in 16:13 of action.
"His first game in Edmonton, he was on the left side. He can play both sides, but he’s clearly more comfortable on the right, A couple good reads, good plays, he’s got a physicality that we’re hopeful he’s kind of learning how to use," said Maurice.
JOONA LUOTO: did some nice work on the penalty kill, with Minnesota going 0-for-3 on the night. Like Chibisov and Poolman, he was also playing for a second straight game.
Maurice is clearly wanting to get to know the Finnish free agent, so expect him to get plenty more looks in the remaining five pre-season contests. Was on a line with Moose regulars Suess and Reichel, and ended up with one hit and one takeaway in 15:20 of ice time.
KRISTIAN VESALAINEN: after a pretty quiet rookie prospect tournament, Vesalainen had a pretty quiet start to his pre-season. There’s no doubt he has the talent, but Vesalainen will need to show more on a regular basis if he wants to not only make the Jets’ opening night roster, but stick as a regular.
The Finnish forward had a nice forecheck in the second period where he poked a puck loose, and had a great scoring chance a short time later after linemate Michael Spacek set him up for what looked like a tap-in goal.
Vesalainen had two shots while playing 12:45.
The Jets return to training camp sessions at Bell MTS Iceplex today. Group A will be on at 9 a.m., with Group B hitting the ice at noon.
Winnipeg will play its third pre-season game on Friday night when the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues come to Bell MTS Place. No. 1 netminder Connor Hellebuyck is likely to get his first taste of pre-season action, and forward Nikolaj Ehlers (dealing with a minor injury) could as well.
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.
Updated on Thursday, September 19, 2019 at 12:44 AM CDT: Adds photo
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