Rook­ies cre­at­ing prob­lems for Jets

Play­ing so well it makes for tough cuts


ST. PAUL, Minn. — The cross­roads of the Win­nipeg Jets’ NHL pre­sea­son comes to­day, with Game 4 of the tune-up sched­ule slated for 5 p.m. at the Xcel Energy Cen­ter against the Min­nesota Wild.

The Jets have failed to win their first three out­ings this Septem­ber. Prob­lem? Not even close. The or­ga­ni­za­tion, in fact, has dis­cov­ered it has some dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions in the days di­rectly ahead. This is ex­actly what an or­ga­ni­za­tion prays for, es­pe­cially when it or­ches­trated the un­known in the first place.

Declar­ing open jobs with­out ac­tu­ally declar­ing them — de­clin­ing to sign UFAs Jim Slater, Lee Stemp­niak, Jiri Tlusty and Michael Fro­lik were non­ac­tions that needed no words — the Jets counted on their sys­tem depth to pro­vide the an­swers.

Com­pe­ti­tion They have seen in­creas­ing com­pe­ti­tion for as many as four jobs, a de­vel­op­ment head coach Paul Mau­rice said Fri­day has even ex­ceeded his ex­pec­ta­tions.

Through three ex­hi­bi­tion games, things are re­ally no clearer than they were two weeks ago.

And with time run­ning short, those in­serted into the lineup Fri­day night raised the bar yet again, mak­ing things all the more dif­fi­cult for the coach and man­age­ment for to­day, and the home game against Ot­tawa Tues­day.

Nor­mally, the con­tenders and pre­tenders are be­gin­ning to sep­a­rate by this point. Good luck with that.

“Each night, and dif­fer­ent looks and dif­fer­ent styles of player that you have fac­tor,” Mau­rice said, con­firm­ing the play­ers in the de­bate are not go­ing to make the choices easy.

Fri­day, the six young for­wards put into the lineup all ad­vanced their cases: Niko­laj Eh­lers, who got to play with two vet­eran of­fen­sive play­ers, and An­drew Copp, Bren­dan Lemieux, JC Lipon, Chase De Leo and Nic Pe­tan.

Pe­tan drew par­tic­u­lar at­ten­tion, for it was his first ap­pear­ance on the wing, not his nor­mal po­si­tion at cen­tre.

He was un­con­cerned about the switch, say­ing early in the day he’ll take a run at any job the Jets have open.

“I was all for it,” he said. “I’m all for try­ing new things. I felt com­fort­able out there, cen­tre or wing.”

Mau­rice con­firmed that with some post-game praise.

“Pe­tan moves to the wing on that line and some real nice keep on the wall, in­stead of just rim­ming it back down, a lit­tle bit of a fake, a lit­tle bit of pa­tience and two guys on that line will­ing to go to the front of the net,” Mau­rice said, de­scrib­ing the Copp goal Pe­tan or­ches­trated.

Bat­tled hard “And some of the other young guys fin­ished their check hard and bat­tled hard. So we’ll have to make a de­ci­sion, prob­a­bly in another five or six days of two or three guys that have stood out in that role and give them a chance down the stretch.”

De Leo, who turns 20 next month and will be a pro this sea­son, has not been con­sid­ered a front-run­ner for cur­rent open­ings.

But he was do­ing and say­ing all the right things Fri­day af­ter giv­ing Lipon a tap-in for his goal against the Oil­ers.

“I’ve said all along that team suc­cess leads to per­sonal suc­cess,” he said. “Ob­vi­ously we’re all bat­tling for spots but at the same time, we need to work as a team and stick to the sys­tem. That’s the whole way we’re go­ing to make a good im­pres­sion.”

De Leo was asked how much he’d like another crack at an ex­hi­bi­tion game,

His an­swer con­firms that the Jets are get­ting the com­pe­ti­tion they sought from their prospect pool.

“Words can’t re­ally de­scribe that,” he said with widen­ing eyes. “This was my first time play­ing in front of the home crowd and I re­ally wanted to get out there and it was def­i­nitely a fun ex­pe­ri­ence.”

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