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This article was published 2/3/2020 (328 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
There's been no shortage of storylines surrounding the Winnipeg Jets defensive unit this year.
There were all the key departures in the offseason, Neal Pionk making a name for himself, the constant battles with injuries, patching the blue-line with waiver wire pickups, and of course, whatever you want to call the whole Dustin Byfuglien ordeal.
Yet, the Jets have been able to survive the good and the bad as they find themselves in the thick of the playoff chase with 15 regular-season games left. While their defensive pairings have been constantly shuffled for numerous reasons, the main six defenders at Monday’s practice at Bell MTS Place could be a sign of the Jets finally having some stability on the back end.
Josh Morrissey was a full participant after missing the past four games with an upper-body injury. He was paired up with Dylan DeMelo. Pionk remained with Dmitry Kulikov and the third pairing featured Tucker Poolman playing alongside Nathan Beaulieu.
"We’ve got the health in our lineup that we really haven’t had," head coach Paul Maurice said. "I mean, Luca (Sbisa) is obviously still out, but now we understand Dylan’s game better having seen him with us... and Kulikov and Pionk have played very well together so (we have) some depth now."
Morrissey said missing games at this time of year is a hard pill to swallow, but that he feels "great" and ready to play in tonight’s home matchup with the Buffalo Sabres. Despite it being a small sample size, Morrissey likes the fit with newcomer DeMelo.
"He’s a good defender. He’s got a good stick defensively. He’s very well positioned all over the ice. Just watching the games, you can really see that’s a real strength of his," said Morrissey.
"Even in practice today, albeit practice, but I think we started to sort of read off each other and like I said, I think he’s a real easy guy to read off of, even after one practice. I’m excited to have the chance to play with him."
Monday’s practice also featured a yellow line as Adam Lowry, Mathieu Perreault and Mark Letestu were on the ice in non-contact uniforms. Letestu has missed the past 60 games with a heart condition. Maurice pumped the brakes on any idea of Letestu being ready to go anytime soon.
"He’s at Day 1," said Maurice. "When he was shut down, it was completely shut down. The heart rate couldn’t get over just slightly above active for the longest period of time. So our 30-minute skate would have been all the man could handle. He’s at Stage 1."
Lowry and Perreault are unlikely to be available for the Buffalo game, but Patrik Laine could be a different story. The 21-year-old, who has 26 goals and 33 assists this season, wasn’t on the ice Monday but will be reassessed in today’s morning skate. Laine has been out since blocking a shot in the team’s 3-0 win over the Washington Capitals last Thursday.
"Nothing’s changed. It’s just a bruise and the swelling has to come down," Maurice said.
Maurice also provided an update on Sbisa who’s missed seven games after suffering an injury against the Chicago Blackhawks on Feb. 16. The injury is more severe than they originally thought.
"He’s day-to-day... I don’t know if it is week-to-week," Maurice said. "He’s got a pretty good injury. He’s got to take some time."
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.