ANAHEIM, Calif., — There are no grey hairs, no mystery aches and pains that seemingly spring out of nowhere. Still, Adam Lowry couldn’t help but look at his new linemates Wednesday night and feel like time is flying by.
The 28-year-old, now starting his second decade in the Winnipeg Jets organization, was the old dog in between a couple young pups. On his right was Cole Perfetti, the fresh-faced 19-year-old making his NHL debut. And on the left was Jansen Harkins, the 24-year-old playing in just his 56th big-league game.
Kids these days, eh? Pass the Metamucil and Bengay.
"I’ve got to impose all my wisdom on them," Lowry, the grizzled veteran of 461 regular-season games and counting, said with a laugh following a morning skate at Honda Center. "No. I’m looking forward to it, it’s going to be fun. It’s always nice injecting new blood into the lineup and getting to see someone play their first NHL game and witness their dream come true."
Lowry recalled his Jets debut, way back in 2014 when he skated on a line with Mathieu Perreault and, believe it or not, defenceman turned occasional forward Dustin Byfuglien.
"We won 6-2 in Arizona. But I just remember I was pretty nervous," said Lowry. "I was on the wing. It was kind of one of those moments. Coming into camp, I didn’t expect anything, didn’t know what to expect, if I was going to make the team or go back to St. John’s (the AHL affiliate at the time). It was just one of those things where I kept progressing throughout the exhibition season and found a way to stick around. Was just real excited, my mom was able to fly down, my sister, I had a lot of family come down to that game and we still talk about how special that moment was."
Lowry now has his father watching his every move, since Dave is starting his second season as a Jets assistant coach. Perfetti’s family was able to get their rapid COVID-19 tests and catch a last-minute flight from Ontario to arrive in southern California in time to see him on the biggest hockey stage.
"Anyone, especially someone that young, they just bring so much excitement and energy to the rink," said 35-year-old Jets forward Paul Stastny.
"All of a sudden, it will be the start of a long career for him. Hopefully you have a good relationship with these guys so that when you’re done in five or 10 years, those are the guys that you keep watching because as I get older, I watch a lot of hockey, but I have a couple of close friends that I keep tabs on. More and more of those guys are kind of leaving the NHL, so those games don’t interest me as much. When you have a bond or a connection with somebody, you look forward to watching them play and keep watching them grow as a player and a person."
Lowry has traditionally been part of a shutdown checking line, typically with Andrew Copp and a rotating cast of characters from Brandon Tanev to Jack Roslovic to Mason Appleton and even Perreault. Now, it’s a different look, with the defensively responsible Copp playing in the top six for the time being on a second line with Pierre-Luc Dubois and Nikolaj Ehlers. Stastny had been skating beside Lowry through training camp but moved up to centre the top line Wednesday between Kyle Connor and Blake Wheeler with Mark Scheifele serving the last of his four-game suspension handed down in the playoffs last spring.
"With two younger wingers, we’d be a little bit more careful about that match-up," Jets coach Paul Maurice admitted. "But (Lowry’s) experience means I’m not going to pull him off the ice for one. I may not leave it all night long, but there is enough experience on that line with a big centre down low — which is where you worry sometimes about younger players. I won’t be pulling them off the ice."
Maurice said there could be plenty of juggling with the bottom-six early in the year. Harkins and Perfetti, who both had terrific camps and pre-season showings, will need to continue proving themselves if they want to stay in their current spot. The fourth line on Wednesday was veteran Riley Nash between two other young wingers in Kristian Vesalainen and Evgeny Svechnikov. Vesalainen played a couple pre-season games with Lowry and Stastny, while Nash could also potentially slide over to the right side if Maurice wants to put together a more defensive look to play against the other team’s best.
Speaking of Svechnikov, he officially inked a one-year, two-way deal with the Jets on Wednesday. The 24-year-old 2015 first-round draft pick of the Detroit Red Wings (19th overall) was in camp with Winnipeg on a pro tryout and earned himself a job. He will be paid the league minimum of US$750,000 at the NHL level. To make room on the roster, the Jets sent 2019 first-rounder Ville Heinola down to the Manitoba Moose. There was no room currently on the crowded blue line for the 20-year-old, who will log big minutes on the farm waiting for opportunity to come knocking.
Winnipeg is now carrying a roster of 22 skaters, one under the maximum of 23. However, they are just pennies under the US $81.5 million salary cap ceiling, which likely means carrying one less body all season.
KOMPON RETURNS: Jets associate coach Jamie Kompon was back in his familiar spot behind the bench for the season opener. He missed all of training camp to be with his wife, Tina, who has been battling breast cancer for the past six years and recently had a setback.
"Now she has another challenge. Because of that, and their home is in the L.A. area, and her doctors, Jamie missed training camp and spent time here. They’ve got hope, and they’ve got a plan," said Maurice, who wore a sweatshirt bearing a pink ribbon and the initials TK.
"That’s a good thing. We also have Jamie coming to the game. He’ll be doing his meeting and he’ll be on the bench — full blown normal. That’s great for us and for him. It’s a big night for us. Tina baked a bunch of stuff (Tuesday) and Jamie came over. I’ve had way too much chocolate by noon today. They’re a really important part of our family here and we’re really looking forward to seeing him."
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.