The oldest player at the Winnipeg Jets annual development camp might be the guy who needs the early summer sessions at the Iceplex the most.

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This article was published 26/6/2019 (661 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The oldest player at the Winnipeg Jets annual development camp might be the guy who needs the early summer sessions at the Iceplex the most.

C.J. Suess is, through no fault of his own, using the off-season to play catchup.

Despite a solid start to the 2018-19 American Hockey League campaign — his first pro season after four years at Minnesota State (Mankato) — it was a season to forget for the 25-year-old forward from Forest Lake, Minn.

Suess had 12 points (8G, 4A) in 26 games for the Manitoba Moose before he was pulled from beneath a pile of players in a mid-December game against the visiting Toronto Marlies, having suffered a serious shoulder injury that required surgery, sidelining him for the rest of the year.

Six months later the pain is gone, he's skating again and busting his tail to shake off the rust that built up during the long stretch in sick bay.

Indeed, development camp is exactly what the Jets' 2014 fifth-round draft choice needs right now.

"(Wednesday) was my first skate, and getting back into the groove of things, getting back with the coaching staff and seeing the off-ice trainers. So, it’s been going good so far," said Suess, who was excused from Tuesday's on-ice workout due to a personal matter.

"It’s been going good so far. I’ve been out of rehab for a while now, so I've just been strengthening it."

Under normal circumstances, Suess wouldn't be here this week with Winnipeg's top young hopefuls, including Henri Nikkanen, Ville Heinola and Harrison Blaisdell — drafted by the Jets less than a week ago — who are seven years his junior.

But the former Hobey Baker finalist as one of U.S. college hockey's top-10 players for the 2017-18 season was given a medical exemption to participate. Suess, who played in Manitoba's top-six forward group before getting hurt, said there's nothing mundane about these sessions and he's pushing himself on every drill.

"You have to take them very seriously. The game’s all along the boards and about speed and getting off quickly, and I definitely lost a little bit of touch.... So, these drills will help a lot," he said.

"We’re all fighting for a spot to make the team and that’s what I’m here to do. No matter how old I am, I’m still going to try."

The Jets' bottom-six forward group could undergo a bit of a makeover out of necessity this fall. Brendan Lemieux was dealt to the New York Rangers at the trade deadline last year, and feisty forechecker Brandon Tanev and winger Par Lindholm are unrestricted free agents.

The smart money's on Suess, listed at 5-11, 190 pounds, to settle in as a key contributor for the Moose during the upcoming AHL season. Mason Appleton and Kristian Vesalainen have the jump on him to make the NHL parent club, at least on paper.

But Suess turned some heads at the Jets' main camp last season, even chipping in a goal and a few assists in pre-season play. He continued his strong play under Moose head coach Pascal Vincent.

"It shows I’m capable of playing at that level and being a difference-maker on the ice. It gives me confidence going into training camp," Suess said.

Jets head coach Paul Maurice said there's clear evidence Suess continues to develop into a more complete player.

"He's clearly a pro out on the ice. He's so much more powerful than when he started." said Maurice. "Picking the puck up around the boards is a hard skill to master and he's just better at it. He's an awful lot better player than he was three years ago."

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

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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