Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/12/2018 (331 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
CHICAGO — Armchair critics whipped Tyler Myers through the first 20 games of the NHL season for some undeniably erratic defensive play and a lack of meaningful participation in the Winnipeg Jets' offensive scheme.
Coming off an exceptional, bounce-back 2017-18 campaign, the towering 10-year defenceman struggled out of the gate in early October while playing the right side on the third pairing, with Joe Morrow and Dmitry Kulikov rotating on the left.
At the quarter pole, Myers had little to show for his effort — just a goal and two assists, along with a minus-2 and some highly visible gaffes in and around the Jets net. For a guy heading into unrestricted free agency, any promotional video of 2018-19 highlights from the former NHL rookie of the year was bound to be pretty short.
But the 28-year-old Houston product has upped his game considerably in the last three weeks, using his size, physicality and puck-moving ability with the consistency he flashed last year. He's driving the net and firing pucks with renewed confidence and using those long arms and legs to fend off dangerous puck carriers.
In his last 11 games prior to the Jets' clash with the Chicago Blackhawks Friday night at United Center, Myers had a pair of goals and four assists. He was particularly active Thursday at home against Edmonton when he generated eight shot attempts against the Oilers. Myers is also now a plus-4 on the season.
"Tyler has hit a really great sweet spot for an offensive defenceman that can defend. He's in at the right time, the confidence is there in his game, he's not pushing the issue. He's on it at the right time," said Jets head coach Paul Maurice. "We've always felt from the blue line to the tops of the circles, because of his range, he could get down on pucks and get into plays.
"Confidence, it's a good example that it doesn't matter how long you've been in the league, when you're feeling it you're a more powerful player. He's skating again as well as I've ever seen him."
Sami Niku is an appealing young player, but he's not quite ready for full-time, prime-time work in the NHL.
To no one's surprise, the 22-year-old Finn was reassigned to the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League on Friday morning, signalling the return of Joe Morrow to the Jets roster.
Niku rejoins Manitoba just as the club begins a six-game homestand. The slick-skating defenceman was summoned from the minors out of necessity when Dmitry Kulikov was injured. He played five games for the Jets and was held pointless, and has been in the press box as a healthy scratch the last three games.
He moves well and makes a heady first pass but isn't yet physically strong enough to handle the rigours of regular blue-line duty in the NHL.
Morrow missed eight games with a lower-body injury but is now off the injured-reserve list. He's been skating with the regular group and participating in full-contact drills for a few days now.
Forward Andrew Copp (concussion symptoms) did not make the trip but is improving, indicated Maurice.
In more Finnish prospects news, forward Kristian Vesalainen's return to his homeland has been productive.
The Jets' highly skilled 2017 first-round draft pick (24th overall) has three goals and a pair of assists in six games since joining Jokerit of the Kontinental Hockey League. He scored in his season debut with the Helsinki-based squad in late November.
The KHL recognized Vesalainen, 19, as its best rookie for the first week of December. He had two goals and two assists in four games, while averaging nearly 17 minutes of ice time. Jokerit is third out of a dozen teams in the league's West Division with a record of 24-8-4.
On Nov. 22, Winnipeg assigned the winger to Jokerit, where he'll finish out the season. He had an out clause in his three-year, entry-level deal that freed him up to return to Europe if he was not on the Jets' roster.
He made the team out of training camp, posting one assist in five NHL games before being sent down to the Manitoba Moose. He scored three goals and added five assists there, but clearly wasn't content to stick around in the AHL.
Would the Jets have preferred Vesalainen stay nearby to keep tabs on his progress and summon him when necessary? Naturally. But the organization has to be happy he's producing against men in Europe's top league. Vesalainen is a potential top-six forward, possibly as early as the 2019-20 season when his entry-level deal kicks in at a time when the organization faces a salary cap crunch.
Scott Foster will always remain an essential part of Jets' folklore.
The last time the Jets played here, the Chicago accountant and former U.S. college netminder who plays beer-league hockey a few times a week was pressed into service as an emergency back-up goalie.
Late in the 2017-18 season — Thursday, March 29 to be exact — Chicago lost goalies Anton Forsberg and Collin Delia to injuries, so Foster took over the Hawks crease and blocked all seven shots he faced over the final 14 minutes in a 6-2 victory over the Jets.
Maurice was asked Friday if the bizarre slice-of-NHL-life story is one he'll tell his grandkids one day.
"Every once in a while there's a joke about an accountant. We need to get an accountant. But no, I hadn't thought about it. Thanks for bringing that up, that's awesome," he said. "You never see that, right? So, there you go. It was not our finest performance."
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).