Veteran wingers Shawn Matthias and Drew Stafford look ready to go, and that means the Winnipeg Jets begin the NHL season with 23 willing and able bodies.

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Veteran wingers Shawn Matthias and Drew Stafford look ready to go, and that means the Winnipeg Jets begin the NHL season with 23 willing and able bodies.

The Central Division squad is healthy heading into tonight’s season opener against the Carolina Hurricanes, although head coach Paul Maurice, somewhat superstitious, balked at discussing the issue in depth Wednesday afternoon.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice</p>

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice

"Why would you do that to me? Do you hate me?" he jokingly asked a media member, following practice at the MTS Iceplex. "Why don’t just start screaming ‘shutout’ while you’re at it.

'It's a long season, and we're healthy today. If there was any wood around here, I'd be hitting you over the head with it'‐ Jets head coach Paul Maurice, joking with a reporter about not jinxing the club's luck with a healthy lineup

"It’s a long season, and we’re healthy today. If there was any wood around here, I’d be hitting you over the head with it."

Matthias, 28, signed as a free agent during the off-season, didn’t get much of an opportunity to make a major impression in training camp. He suffered an upper-body injury in the first period of the Jets’ first pre-season game, a 3-0 loss at home to Calgary.

The Mississauga, Ont., native, who split last season with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Colorado Avalanche, said it felt good to be back with the group as it prepares for the Hurricanes.

"You want to get back into the swing of things, especially when you are new to a team and just getting to know guys," said the 6-4, 225-pound forward. "I’m excited to get back and start the season. I feel good. I’ve been working hard to be ready, and I feel ready. I know all the guys are excited and ready to have a good start to the season and get some wins under our belt."

He skated on a line with centre Bryan Little and Stafford Wednesday, and hopes he can create some room and space for them.

"For me, it’s about being a big body, going to the net hard, going into the corners, competing every night, just working hard, being relentless on the forecheck and making (my linemates’) games easy," he said. "I’m a big guy, I can skate well and I plan on using my strengths to the best of my abilities."

"There’s a lot of talent on this team, a lot of hard-working guys," added Matthias, who has 81 goals and 159 points in 479 career NHL games. "Anyone you get a chance to play with on this hockey club I feel like you’re spoiled. The skill level is very, very high. It’s exciting. I’m excited to be a part of this hockey organization."

Stafford, meanwhile, was injured in a pre-season contest with the Ottawa Senators Oct. 3 but said he’s fit for game action.

"Credit to the training staff getting me good to go. I feel good on the ice, it’s nice to get a couple of practices in," said Stafford, who turns 31 Oct. 30. "It’s a long summer when you miss playoffs, so it’s good to finally get back into it. The wait is over, finally, so it’s good to get our team together and, hopefully, get off to a good start here."

The Milwaukee product had 21 goals for the Jets last season, his best output since a 31-goal campaign six years ago with the Buffalo Sabres.

Stafford said the Jets won’t have difficulty scoring but need to maintain a responsible defensive approach.

"I think we have some great offensive depth," he said. "Obviously, we want to have that quick attack. We want to play with speed. We want to get in on the forecheck and make sure we’re taking care of the puck on both sides of it."

jason.bell@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
Assistant sports editor

Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).

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