September 25, 2018

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Welcome to Camp Gottawinacup

As the Winnipeg Jets open their eighth training camp this week, we offer eight compelling storylines and eight players to watch who are battling for NHL jobs

If you spiked their water bottles with truth serum, the fact is most Winnipeg Jets would probably prefer jumping right into the fire and start the regular season now.

But that's not how life works in the NHL, where training camp is a necessary evil.

This year's edition will be a near carbon-copy of the squad that finished second-overall in the league last year (52-20-10), marched past the Minnesota Wild and nudged out the Nashville Predators before ultimately falling to the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference final.

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If you spiked their water bottles with truth serum, the fact is most Winnipeg Jets would probably prefer jumping right into the fire and start the regular season now.

Jets training camp lineups

Group A

Goalies (2)

37 Connor Hellebuyck

30 Laurent Brossoit

Group A

Goalies (2)

37 Connor Hellebuyck

30 Laurent Brossoit

Defencemen (8)

3 Tucker Poolman

5 Dmitry Kulikov

7 Ben Chiarot

8 Jacob Trouba

33 Dustin Byfuglien

57 Tyler Myers

70 Joe Morrow

83 Sami Niku

Forwards (15)

9 Andrew Copp

13 Brandon Tanev

17 Adam Lowry

18 Bryan Little

19 Nic Petan

26 Blake Wheeler

27 Nikolaj Ehlers

28 Jack Roslovic

29 Patrik Laine

42 Kristian Vesalainen

48 Brendan Lemieux

55 Mark Scheifele

56 Marko Dano

81 Kyle Connor

85 Mathieu Perreault

 

Group B

Goalies (3)

1 Eric Comrie

50 Ken Appleby

60 Mikhail Berdin

Defencemen (11)

6 Cameron Schilling

47 Declan Chisholm

51 Luke Green

52 Simon Bourque

53 Charles-David Beaudoin

62 Nelson Nogier

63 Giovanni Vallati

64 Logan Stanley

72 Leon Gawanke

78 Jacob Cederholm

84 Peter Stoykewych

Forwards (12)

16 Seth Griffith

34 JC Lipon

45 Dennis Everberg

49 Nicolas Kerdiles

58 Jansen Harkins

71 Tye McGinn

73 C.J. Suess

74 Matt Ustaski

76 Skyler McKenzie

80 Michael Spacek

82 Mason Appleton

86 Kristian Reichel

* Unsigned restricted free agent D Josh Morrissey not on training camp roster.

But that's not how life works in the NHL, where training camp is a necessary evil.

This year's edition will be a near carbon-copy of the squad that finished second-overall in the league last year (52-20-10), marched past the Minnesota Wild and nudged out the Nashville Predators before ultimately falling to the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference final.

Weekend training camp schedule

Friday

Group A

10 a.m. on-ice fitness testing

Group B

12 p.m. on-ice fitness testing

Friday

Group A

10 a.m. on-ice fitness testing

Group B

12 p.m. on-ice fitness testing

Saturday

Group 1

9 a.m. on-ice session

10:45 a.m. off-ice workout

Group 2

12 p.m. on-ice session

1:45 p.m. off-ice workout

But that doesn't mean there won't be any drama unfolding at Bell MTS Iceplex as training camp officially gets underway. After completing medicals Thursday, players will go through on-ice fitness testing Friday before coach Paul Maurice and his staff begin putting them through their paces Saturday.

In recognition of this being the eighth season since the NHL came back to town, we've put together what we think are the eight key storylines and eight young players in the spotlight over the next few weeks.

And we gaze into our crystal ball to offer our best guess at how the Jets lineup will look when the puck drops for real in St. Louis on Oct. 4.


8 KEY STORYLINES HEADING INTO CAMP:

WInnipeg Jets' Josh Morrissey is still without a contract on the eve of training camp.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

WInnipeg Jets' Josh Morrissey is still without a contract on the eve of training camp.

1) MORRISSEY SAGA — Who’d have predicted the nice kid from Calgary and his Edmonton-based agent would play hardball with the Jets during the off-season? This deal was viewed as the easy one to get done, yet Connor Hellebuyck and Blake Wheeler are locked up for the long haul and even Jacob Trouba’s inked for another year, while Morrissey is a no-show at the Iceplex right now. The 25-year-old defenceman’s entry-level deal was done on July 1 and he’s a restricted free agent, believed to be looking for a bridge deal to tide him over until his offensive upside kicks in and he becomes the elite two-way blue-liner most firmly believe he will be. The team wants to lock him in to a much longer deal. Until he’s signed, there's a gaping hole on the left side. The Jets and Morrissey have both stated over the last few weeks that common ground will eventually be found.

Jets coach Paul Maurice will have to temper expectations for his team this season.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Jets coach Paul Maurice will have to temper expectations for his team this season.

2) GREAT EXPECTATIONS — The Jets kick off this campaign as one of the favourites to host a parade next June. But nobody wins the Stanley Cup in September, and there is much work to be done between now and then. History is littered with teams that have been crushed by the weight of increased expectations, and the Jets will have to guard against that. There’s no room for complacency, and coach Paul Maurice and his staff will have to do everything possible to keep this talented, young group pointed in the right direction. Expect a lot more "we’re taking it one day at a time, one game at a time" clichés coming out of the locker room.

Bryan Little will likely get a chance to centre the second-line.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Bryan Little will likely get a chance to centre the second-line.

3) CENTRE OF ATTENTION — Even after clearing room on the books by sending goalie Steve Mason and winger Joel Armia to Montreal, the Jets still couldn’t sweeten the pot to retain the services of UFA Paul Stastny. So, Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers need a middle man and veteran Bryan Little will get every chance to assume the post. Little’s a consistent 40-plus-point player and has arrived feeling fit and healthy. He’s got great vision and work ethic, yet hasn’t demonstrated to date he clicks with the electrifying Europeans. If the trio fails to generate chemistry, expect Jack Roslovic or Nic Petan to audition for the role.

Is this the year that Nic Petan gets a permanent place in the Jets lineup?

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Is this the year that Nic Petan gets a permanent place in the Jets lineup?

4) JOB OPENINGS — There are 10 returning regulars up front and seven on the blue line whose employment with the team is carved in stone. That leaves four skater spots up for grabs on the 23-man roster. And, barring a major surprise, seven candidates will battle it out to fill them. We’re looking at you Petan, Roslovic, Kristian Vesalainen, Brendan Lemieux, Marko Dano, Tucker Poolman and Sami Niku. This is where the seven pre-season games become so critical for these players on the bubble, who will not only have to strut their stuff as individuals but also handle the responsibilities of the available roles.

Winnipeg Jets' Dustin Byfuglien is in need of a playing partner.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Winnipeg Jets' Dustin Byfuglien is in need of a playing partner.

5) BUFF'S BUDDY — Longtime partner Toby Enstrom is gone, and that leaves a big opening on the blue line. With Trouba and Morrissey (once he’s re-signed) entrenched as the top shutdown pair, Byfuglien and a yet-to-be-determined left-side mate are the next line of defence. Maurice has hinted at giving Tyler Myers a look there, moving him from the right side to the left in what would definitely be the largest duo — 6-5, 260 lb. Byfuglien, 6-8, 229 lb. Myers — in the league. If not Myers, then who? Joe Morrow and Ben Chiarot have had successful, albeit brief, stints there in the past and both may get opportunities. And then there’s the wildcard in Niku, the reigning AHL defenceman of the year. The flashy Finn has one NHL game under his belt and lined up beside Byfuglien for that late-season contest in Montreal, where he scored. Can he push his way into the lineup off the start?

Goalie Laurent Brossoit is the Jets' probable backup going in to training camp.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Goalie Laurent Brossoit is the Jets' probable backup going in to training camp.

6) CONNOR'S CREASEMATE — The signing of Laurent Brossoit came a bit out of left field July 1 and yet makes perfect sense for a team that has already has a bona fide No.1 starter in Hellebuyck, guaranteed to start about 65 games this season. Brossoit, a former Edmonton Oilers farmhand who has but 28 NHL appearances under his belt, shares the same agent as Hellebuyck, and the two goalies work out together in the off-season. He’s also on a one-year, one-way contract. His only competition in camp, Eric Comrie, is on a two-way deal and, while still considered a blue-chip prospect in the organization, likely needs another heavy workload with the Manitoba Moose before he gets his time to shine.

Patrik Laine comes to training camp 14 pounds lighter this season.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Patrik Laine comes to training camp 14 pounds lighter this season.

7) LEANER LAINE — He dropped 14 pounds this summer in an attempt to get quicker. How will that translate in terms of production? Laine is coming off seasons of 36 and 44 goals and already possesses one of the best shots in the game. Throw in some increased foot speed and the 20-year-old sniper potentially becomes even more dangerous. Laine has already said he’d like to take a run at the Rocket Richard trophy that goes to the top goal-scorer in the league, and you know he’ll be highly motivated this season considering his entry-level deal is set to expire and he can cash in next summer on a lucrative, long-term extension.

Newly-extended Jets captain Blake Wheeler is coming off a career season.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Newly-extended Jets captain Blake Wheeler is coming off a career season.

8) FOLLOW THE LEADER — Blake Wheeler is the heart and soul of the team, and his five-year contract extension means he’s not going anywhere. The veteran winger is coming off a career year, has great chemistry with Mark Scheifele and, along with Kyle Connor, formed one of the most potent lines in the league. Can he and his linemates duplicate their on-ice success? Wheeler has stated he’s not satisfied by what the team accomplished last year and will do everything he can to drag his team to the promised land.


8 YOUNG PLAYERS TO WATCH IN THE PRESEASON:

Big-bodied Finn, 19-year-old Kristian Vesalainen.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Big-bodied Finn, 19-year-old Kristian Vesalainen.

F Kristian Vesalainen, 19 — The 2017 first-rounder has the big body and skill set that could make him a stellar pro for years to come. The Jets don’t need to rush their prized prospect into action, especially with a deep forward core. But he’s also got a contract clause allowing him to return to Europe for one more season if he doesn’t crack the opening-day roster. Brass may prefer him to get some seasoning on the farm with the Moose, so his situation will require close monitoring over the next few weeks.

 

F Jack Roslovic, 21 — He showed flashes of brilliance last year and may have been the Jets' best forward in the final couple of games of the Western Conference final. Now this fitness fanatic is poised to make a big jump. Whether it’s as the new second-line centre or on the wing deeper in the lineup, Roslovic has a golden opportunity to become an everyday NHL player and has all the tools to succeed.

Sami Niku was the AHL's defenceman of the year last season with the Manitoba Moose.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Sami Niku was the AHL's defenceman of the year last season with the Manitoba Moose.

D Sami Niku, 21 — What can he do for an encore? Niku had a tremendous rookie season in North America, winning the AHL defenceman of the year honours with the Manitoba Moose. He also had a memorable debut with the Jets, scoring a goal in his only NHL game to date. The silky-smooth skater is in tough to make the big club out of camp due to a blue-line backlog, but could make things interesting with a strong pre-season.

F Brendan Lemieux, 22 — He’s got to find a way to make an impact right out of the pre-season gate if he wants to be considered for an NHL role this year, likely in the bottom-six. Lemieux took a solid step last season, putting up close to a point-a-game with the Moose and getting in nine games with the Jets, which included scoring his first goal. The rugged, two-way winger is in the final year of his entry-level deal and must continue showing progression.

This year might be Marko Dano's best chance to crack the Jets' regular lineup.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

This year might be Marko Dano's best chance to crack the Jets' regular lineup.

F Marko Dano, 23 — While the former first-round pick has the motor, wheels and the physicality, his hockey IQ and offensive touch remain question mark? He’s been unable to nail down full-time work in five seasons as a pro, and was as much a fixture in the press box last season as the pop machine. But this year’s camp offers up, perhaps, Dano’s last best chance to become a valuable contributor in Winnipeg.

F Nic Petan, 23 — Over the summer, his agent told the Free Press he wasn’t sure if there was room for his client in the Jets organization. Well, the club either tried, unsuccessfully, to find a new home for the skilled but diminutive forward or felt it necessary to retain him, ultimately inking him to a one-year, two-way deal. Winnipeg already has a deadly top-six but has an opportunity to go all-in with a skilled third line as well. Petan must assert himself in camp to be on that trio.

Eric Comrie will be competing for a backup role when the Jets open training camp Friday.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/TREVOR HAGAN

Eric Comrie will be competing for a backup role when the Jets open training camp Friday.

G Eric Comrie, 23 — He’s athletic, intelligent and driven, pouring everything he has into making the Jets as the No.2 masked man behind Connor Hellebuyck. He’s the epitome of a perfectionist and won’t settle for anything less. But unless Laurent Brossoit gets hurt or looks totally porous in the pre-season, expect Comrie to get the lion’s share of work with the Moose.

D Tucker Poolman, 25 — He rarely wows with his speed, shot or punishing checks, yet Poolman didn’t look out of place in the 24 games he suited up for the Jets last season. Instinctively, he understands how to play a tidy brand of hockey in his own end and won’t make risky plays. The difficulty for him is that he’s a right-shot blue-liner, and the Jets are loaded on that side. But the club clearly believes in him, showing commitment by signing him to a three-year deal.


HOW WILL THEY LIKELY LOOK COME OPENING NIGHT?

GOAL:

Hellebuyck

Brossoit

FORWARD:

Connor-Scheifele-Wheeler

Ehlers-Little-Laine

Perreault-Roslovic-Petan

Copp-Lowry-Tanev

DEFENCE:

Morrissey-Trouba

Morrow-Byfuglien

Kulikov-Myers

EXTRA:

Dano

Chiarot

Poolman

 

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Reporter

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

Read full biography

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).

Read full biography

History

Updated on Thursday, September 13, 2018 at 7:08 PM CDT: Adds photo

7:57 PM: Fixes typos

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