October 18, 2017

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Rookie makes NHL debut after Byfuglien injury

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson</p><p>Winnipeg Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck makes a save as Edmonton Oilers' Iiro Pakarinen and Tucker Poolman battle in front of the net during second period NHL action in Edmonton, Monday. Poolman drew into his first regular season NHL game as a result of an injury to veteran blue-liner Dustin Byfuglien.</p>

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Winnipeg Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck makes a save as Edmonton Oilers' Iiro Pakarinen and Tucker Poolman battle in front of the net during second period NHL action in Edmonton, Monday. Poolman drew into his first regular season NHL game as a result of an injury to veteran blue-liner Dustin Byfuglien.

VANCOUVER — Something happened to Dustin Byfuglien, although no one’s saying exactly how or precisely when the not-so-nice thing occurred.

The enigmatic force on the Winnipeg Jets’ blue line could not answer the bell for an evening matchup with the Edmonton Oilers on Thanksgiving Monday.

The Jets finally hit the victory column without the services of the big man, registering an impressive 5-2 win over the host Oilers to raise their record to 1-2-0 with the 2017-18 NHL campaign still in its infancy.

Byfuglien, who was called on for 25 shifts and 25 minutes, two seconds of ice time on Saturday in Calgary, suffered a lower-body injury in the battle with the Flames — a contest the Jets led 3-1 before stalling out in the final 40 minutes and losing 6-3.

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VANCOUVER — Something happened to Dustin Byfuglien, although no one’s saying exactly how or precisely when the not-so-nice thing occurred.

The enigmatic force on the Winnipeg Jets’ blue line could not answer the bell for an evening matchup with the Edmonton Oilers on Thanksgiving Monday.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson</p><p>Winnipeg Jets' Nikolaj Ehlers checks Edmonton Oilers' Kris Russell during the first period in Edmonton, Monday. Ehlers would score three goals in a row for Winnipeg on the night, giving him a natural hat-trick.</p>

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Winnipeg Jets' Nikolaj Ehlers checks Edmonton Oilers' Kris Russell during the first period in Edmonton, Monday. Ehlers would score three goals in a row for Winnipeg on the night, giving him a natural hat-trick.

The Jets finally hit the victory column without the services of the big man, registering an impressive 5-2 win over the host Oilers to raise their record to 1-2-0 with the 2017-18 NHL campaign still in its infancy.

Byfuglien, who was called on for 25 shifts and 25 minutes, two seconds of ice time on Saturday in Calgary, suffered a lower-body injury in the battle with the Flames — a contest the Jets led 3-1 before stalling out in the final 40 minutes and losing 6-3.

The 6-5, 250-pound defenceman didn’t practise Sunday in Edmonton or take to the ice in Monday’s morning pre-game skate, and his participation in the collision with the Oilers was a game-time decision.

By the time the evening rolled around, he was scratched from the lineup and replaced by rookie Tucker Poolman, a 24-year-old rearguard from East Grand Forks, Minn., who made his NHL debut.

Jets head coach Paul Maurice said Byfuglien remains "day-to-day with a lower-body injury." The Jets complete a three-game road trip Thursday night against the Vancouver Canucks.

"(Byfuglien) came in for the (Monday) morning skate and tried to loosen it up and it didn’t quite warm up," Maurice said, shortly after the triumph at Rogers Place.

"Then he came in an hour before (the game)... we do a bunch of things with these injuries, and if he doesn’t feel right you don’t put him on the ice."

Byfuglien, 32, has been a workhorse for the Jets, missing just 20 games over the last four seasons. The organization and the fans who support it are keenly aware of the risks and rewards associated with the product of Roseau, Minn., who possesses speed, power and game-breaking abilities, but also makes frequent mistakes that hurt his team.   

Translation? You notice him, for better or worse.

His replacement, paired with veteran blue-liner Toby Enstrom, was quietly impressive.

Poolman had a solid training camp and steady pre-season performances to secure a spot on the club’s 23-man roster. He was a healthy scratch in Winnipeg’s opening two defeats before drawing into his first-ever NHL contest ahead of Ben Chiarot, who watched from the press box along with extra forward Joel Armia and injured centre Matt Hendricks. 

The former star with the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks opted for smart, simple plays and made no major gaffes, finishing with 19 shifts and more than 14 minutes of ice time. He also got a ‘welcome to the bigs, kid’ greeting from rugged Oilers forward Milan Lucic, by way of a crushing bodycheck.

No sure bet after being selected by Winnipeg in the fifth round (127th overall) of the 2013 NHL Draft, Poolman certainly impressed his new coach.

"He did all the simple things well. He settled in to the game and he’s just a smart, smart defenceman with the puck," Maurice said. "He’s older, and it’s a big (difference) from an 18- or 19-year old coming in. He’s physically mature, he can handle the play down low. It was a really good game for him, but that’s very close to his training camp."


Ten days ago, Brandon Tanev was in a fierce battle with seven or eight other skaters for a job on the Jets’ bottom-six forward crew.

Since then, a handful were shipped to the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League, a few have been in and out of the lineup, while a couple have started on the third line and then dropped to the fourth.

Tanev, a fourth-liner and penalty killer, was the recipient of a promotion on Monday.

The 25-year-old Toronto-born winger had 15 shifts and 8:29 of ice time in the Jets’ 7-2 loss to the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday, and 16 shifts and 9:27 of playing time on Saturday in Calgary. In Edmonton, however, he played a chunk of time on the third forward unit with centre Adam Lowry and left-winger Shawn Matthias, took 22 shifts and played nearly 13 minutes, while blocking a pair of shots and finishing as the club leader with six hits.

Despite taking an ill-advised cross-checking penalty in the third period with his club leading 4-2, Tanev, who replaced Nic Petan on the Lowry trio midway through the game, was lauded by his coach afterward.

"Just a lot of speed, and Lowry and Matthias can use it," Maurice said. "He’s been hard on pucks, made really good decisions and showed some hands. He’s found a way to get a breakaway (Tanev scored a short-handed tally in Calgary) each game, and he’s a good penalty killer.

"When you play a team with special players like Edmonton, you have to have two lines that can play against them. (The Lowry line) was just as important going on the ice as Mark (Scheifele’s) line."


It’s worth reiterating Scheifele and his wingers, Nikolaj Ehlers and Blake Wheeler, combined for 10 points against the Oilers.

Ehlers broke a 2-2 tie with a natural hat trick, beating goalie Cam Talbot twice in just 1:09 late in the middle period and then firing his third of the game with just under two minutes left in the third.

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Read more by Jason Bell .

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