ST. LOUIS -- Sometimes it's easy to forget Jacob Trouba is so young and then he says something like, "I grew almost a half an inch last year and I think I'm growing some more this year."

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Opinion

ST. LOUIS -- Sometimes it's easy to forget Jacob Trouba is so young and then he says something like, "I grew almost a half an inch last year and I think I'm growing some more this year."

Give the kid a glass of milk and then ask him to carry your team into the playoffs.

Jets D-man Jacob Trouba plays with an edge that belies his usually  happy-go-lucky personality  off the ice.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Jets D-man Jacob Trouba plays with an edge that belies his usually happy-go-lucky personality off the ice.

Trouba is just 21 and while growth is still ahead of him as both a person and a professional, there are heavy expectations being placed on him right now.

'In this league you can never get comfortable. You always have to be pushing yourself'‐ Jacob Trouba

With 16 games to go, the Jets are three points over the playoff line but have lost veteran defenceman Dustin Byfuglien anywhere from two to four weeks, as well as centre Bryan Little for an undetermined amount of time.

Trouba heads a list of players being asked to step forth and contribute even more.

"Oh, he has to be. He absolutely has to be," says Jets coach Paul Maurice, when asked if Trouba is already enough of a player to handle the increased responsibility being thrust upon him. "He and the two centremen (second year man Mark Scheifele and rookie Adam Lowry) with Byfuglien and Bryan (Little) out, there is no hiding in those positions. You're in the top four D and the one-two centre hole, you're playing against the other team's best players all night long."

The Jets enter tonight's game with the St. Louis Blues (7 p.m., TSN3, TSN 1290) with a record of 33-21-12 and 78 points. The conventional thinking around the NHL is a team in the Western Conference will need between 93 and 95 points to get into the playoffs. The Jets have some work to do and injuries are just an excuse. Playoff teams have depth and find a way to fight through adversity.

'There's a real poise to his game and a real assertiveness as well. At both ends of the ice. He can lead the defence in our zone and he can lead the offence as well. There's a lot of confidence and maturity there for a very young player. It's impressive'‐ veteran NHL defenceman and teammate Jay Harrison, on Trouba

"Players get hurt in this league. It's how you respond that matters. I want to be the kind of player a team can count on. This is a chance for me to show that," said Trouba.

Trouba plays with confidence. He can be physical and jump into the rush. He's not afraid to make mistakes because he has the tools to recover. Veteran defenceman Jay Harrison says calm and confidence are the first things he noticed when he started watching Trouba on a daily basis.

"There's a real poise to his game and a real assertiveness as well. At both ends of the ice. He can lead the defence in our zone and he can lead the offence as well," said Harrison. "There's a lot of confidence and maturity there for a very young player. It's impressive. It's just a matter of time before he grows into that top pairing player that he's destined to be. And he's moving at an incredible clip."

Trouba is an interesting study. He seems to be a mostly happy kid. He deals with the media easily and is often in the middle of some back and forth with teammates. But from the moment he got to the NHL he displayed a willingness to put a hurting on an opponent if it would help his own cause.

"When I play with an edge, that's when I'm feeling my best," Trouba said. "In this league you can never get comfortable. You always have to be pushing yourself. I find that with my game. If I get comfortable and stop being physical, I'm not as good. I'm working to make it habit. (Mark) Stuart is a perfect example for me. He never makes it easy on the opponent. You want to be known as a guy that's hard to play against."

Maurice has shown a knack for assessing talent and finding ways to help it grow. He kept Lowry on the ice early this season when it would have been easier to go with a veteran player and the benefits are now being reaped.

There have been stretches when Trouba has been sheltered in terms of quality of opposition but those days are over. Maurice believes his second-year man can handle what's put in front of him. The coach doesn't worry about how much he's playing Trouba or who he's playing him against.

"Not even a little bit. I think he played around 24 minutes a few times last year and that's what he was at that Saturday. That's what we're training him for," said Maurice. "If they're physically able, that kind of player, they're better the more minutes they get."

Some projections have Trouba being a Norris Trophy candidate some day. Even if he buys into that kind of thinking, the player isn't sharing.

"I have personal goals but right now I'm just worried about doing what it takes to get this team into the playoffs," said Trouba. "I'm learning. I'm learning every day. I have lots to learn and can get better in every area of my game."

The spotlight will be on Trouba now more than ever. So far he's handled every challenge put in front of him in his young NHL career. If he takes this next step in stride, Trouba will be where he wants to be. So will Jets fans.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless