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Jets content to let young defenceman mature in minors

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/11/2019 (263 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

SUNRISE, Fla. — Flashy statistics alone won’t earn Sami Niku a promotion, it would seem.

The young defenceman is generating plenty of attention in the American Hockey League as a driver for the Manitoba Moose through 10 games. He has 11 points (three goals, eight assists) and is tied for second in scoring by defencemen — and the three leaders tied with 12 points have all participated in at least three more games.

JASON HALSTEAD / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Defenceman Sami Niku has three goals and eight assists for 11 points in 10 games with the Manitoba Moose this season</p>


Defenceman Sami Niku has three goals and eight assists for 11 points in 10 games with the Manitoba Moose this season

But unless one of the Winnipeg Jets’ eight defencemen gets injured, Niku will remain right where he is and continue to play heavy minutes for Moose head coach Pascal Vincent.

"We’re running with eight and I have no interest in running nine. And he’s doing what he needs to do. He needs to develop there, he needs to touch the puck and he needs to play with the puck," Jets head coach Paul Maurice said Thursday afternoon, prior to his club’s battle with the Florida Panthers. "He’s a good player, a good offensive player and he’s going to play for the Jets sometime soon. But we like what he’s doing so much there that there’s not a strong urgency. We also like where our team’s been the last two weeks and how we’re defending."

Maurice has stuck with the same pairings the past four outings: Josh Morrissey and Tucker Poolman; Dmitry Kulikov and Neal Pionk; and Nathan Beaulieu and Luca Sbisa. Anthony Bitetto and Carl Dahlstrom have watched from the press box during the stretch.

Niku played 30 games with the Jets a year ago (1G, 3A) but has suited up just once this season, a 4-1 triumph over the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Oct. 8.

Jets forward Bryan Little hasn’t reached the point of going through concussion protocol as he recovers after getting hit in the side of the head by teammate Nikolaj Ehlers’ slapshot on Nov. 5 at Bell MTS Place.   

He’s recuperating from a perforated eardrum and symptoms of vertigo. Maurice said the most important thing right now is for the veteran centre to heal.

"There’s really nothing new. He’s just healing right now before any assessment gets going forward. I don’t even believe we’ve gotten to (the concussion protocol), yet," he said. "This one is going to be real patient and, like I said, he’s still healing. That’s far enough down the road that they haven’t done that yet."

Little was skating behind the net midway through the third period of Winnipeg’s 2-1 shootout loss to the New Jersey Devils when he was struck by the rising puck. He was transported to St. Boniface Hospital and needed 25-30 stitches before he was transferred to Health Sciences Centre and spent two days under observation in the neurological unit.

Twitter: @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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