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.”