For years, Adam Lowry has remained the constant presence on the Winnipeg Jets designated checking line.

For years, Adam Lowry has remained the constant presence on the Winnipeg Jets designated checking line.

The veteran centreman, now in his eighth NHL season, has carved out an important role playing down the middle of a three-man unit that has been consistent in its expected role, despite ever-changing when it comes to personnel. But as another season inches closer, while Lowry remains firmly entrenched in his familiar spot, how the line will be asked to play and who will be there to execute these new expectations have since shifted.

"What’s changed with that line, more than anything else, is speed. The heaviness was always there," Jets head coach Paul Maurice said after another training camp session Tuesday at the Iceplex.

"We’ll put a guy on that line that can make some plays, that’s got some size. Maybe what will be slightly different is how we will be coming off the bench."

"When that line was together two, three or four years ago especially, I ran them in the two-hole all the time, which protected that third line. So, Bryan Little could play with (Patrik) Laine and Ehlers, and that line could go against certain competition, and they’d score, and we’d think that life is good." — Paul Maurice

The player Maurice is talking about is Kristian Vesalainen. That's no surprise, as Vesalainen — a Finnish-born, 22-year-old that stands 6-3 and weighs 207 pounds — has been given every opportunity in training camp to win that spot at right wing. The odds are he will, according to Maurice, at least to start the season, leaving Lowry at centre and Paul Stastny on the left side.

What's more telling is the last part, where Maurice subtlety suggests that what used to be the role of Lowry and Co. is likely to change this year. "Maybe what will be different is how we will be coming off the bench," as Maurice said, though a simple statement, could have a profound effect on the rest of the forwards.

There's a few things to unpack here.

First off, Maurice has often resisted calling Lowry's group a third line. Not because they deserve to be higher on the team's depth chart, but because of how he employs the trio.

In years past, the main objective of the line was to shut down an opponent's first or second unit, meaning Lowry's line would often start a game or be the first off the bench. The ice time often reflected as much, as those minutes matched the opponent's higher skilled lines.

With Andrew Copp upgraded to a top-six role, playing alongside Pierre-Luc Dubois and Nikolaj Ehlers, and Mason Appleton and Mathieu Perreault — the other in-house options used mainly with Lowry last season — now with other NHL clubs, Maurice has opted to change philosophies.

Former Winnipeg Jets right winger Patrik Laine, left, was on a line with Bryan Little and Nikolaj Ehlers in 2017. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

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Former Winnipeg Jets right winger Patrik Laine, left, was on a line with Bryan Little and Nikolaj Ehlers in 2017. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

"When that line was together two, three or four years ago especially, I ran them in the two-hole all the time, which protected that third line. So, Bryan Little could play with (Patrik) Laine and Ehlers, and that line could go against certain competition, and they’d score, and we’d think that life is good," Maurice said. "Except that you eventually will need those players — because they score, they get paid a lot of money and that’s just the way it is — you eventually need them and they want to play 18 minutes."

Simply put, Maurice has a distribution issue. There's only so many minutes in a game, how do you give a ton to Lowry's line without upsetting a top-six that rivals many in the NHL? The answer is you can't, and Maurice, without saying it, clearly has more trust in his second line — a group that includes Copp, Dubois and Ehlers — than he's had in previous years.

When Maurice said "certain competition" what he likely meant was lesser competition. In theory, if Lowry's line can shut down an opponent's top line, it would then leave one of the Jets top two lines against an opponent's third. Given how talented the Jets top two lines are, on more nights than not it would create a competitive advantage. Hence the talk about scoring goals and the ensuing desire for more ice time.

But let's not lose sight of the trust part.

"We want to be a line that's tough to play against, responsible, not giving up goals, and obviously it's important to chip in at the other end of the rink. That was something we did well last year." — Adam Lowry

Just because a line is offensively gifted it doesn't mean they're defensively sound. And that's been the case for both Jets top lines, including the No. 1 trio of Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler and Kyle Connor. But with Scheifele and Connor, as well as Ehlers, Dubois and Copp, entering the prime of their careers, it's time to ask them to do more against better competition.

And if that's the case, then the role of Lowry's line should also change, which it inevitably will. In putting Stastny and Vesalainen with Lowry, where they lose some speed, Maurice hopes they can push for more offence playing against lesser competition.

"We want to be a line that's tough to play against, responsible, not giving up goals, and obviously it's important to chip in at the other end of the rink. That was something we did well last year," Lowry said. "We really contributed offensively, and we took lots of tough matchups. That's going to be a thing we try to grow."

He added, "You can't just forget there's one end of the ice at the far end of the rink and now you're hanging out by the red line to just play prevent (defence). It's about finding that good balance."

Lowry and Stastny appear to be locks on the line, and Maurice said he will be patient with Vesalainen, especially since he's a left-handed shooter playing on the right side. But for how long is unclear. Vesalainen hasn't exactly turned heads in training camp, but the Jets believe if they can free him up with a playmaker such as Stastny and a player in Lowry that can cause havoc in front of the net, they'll be able to take advantage of his elite shot.

There's always a chance that doesn't work, though, and there are other options, including Copp, who could move back down. For now, the plan appears to be to use the next two pre-season games to help solidify a new vision up front and see what grows from there.

"There is going to come a time where it has to bear fruit or it has given us the idea it will look good, whether that’s three or four months from now or in the next two weeks," Maurice said. "If it doesn’t then we need to feel we have another option, there has to be somebody else who has to move into position and is at least as good there. So, we’re still waiting for and still watching."

jeff.hamilton@freepress.mb.ca

twitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.