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Mathieu Perreault is beginning to embrace somewhat of a new reality as he prepares for the 500th game of his NHL career.
The veteran forward, in his fifth season with the Winnipeg Jets and the second year of a deal that pays him US$4.125 million annually until the summer of 2021, will not be relied on for offensive production.
There hasn’t been much of that since about Valentine’s Day, anyway.
Perreault’s dogged puck pursuit, the sacrificing of his body to make a play and his veteran savvy, both on and off the ice, make him a coach’s favourite, while his candor makes him a media darling.
So, it was no great surprise when Perreault, who has no points in three games to begin the 2018-19 season and just three goals and three assist going back nine playoff games and 25 regular-season games last season, said Wednesday he’s focusing on contributing as a role player, at least for the time being.
“Personally, I haven’t got a point yet, but my goal is always to try to make a difference every time I step on the ice, towards helping the team win the game. I think this is the role I’m going to try to be in this year. I won’t be looking too much at personal production,” said Perreault, who suits up for his milestone game tonight in Nashville against the Predators.
“I’ve always been a guy that gets points. But, now my career has maybe taken a different turn. Honestly, for me, I just like getting chances, being out there, helping the team win. That’s all that really matters.”
The Jets coaching staff tried Perreault with centre Bryan Little and high-scoring winger Patrik Laine during parts of the pre-season, the season-opener in St. Louis and Game 2 in Dallas, with minimal success.
Now, head coach Paul Maurice is determined to give dynamic but inconsistent speedster Nikolaj Ehlers another long look on the left side. While the season is still in its infancy, the Jets need another line to share the scoring burden with the Mark Scheifele unit.
“Very, very high,” Maurice said when asked where finding second-line chemistry sits on the priority list.
That means Perreault has dropped from the top-nine and will keep cruising the wing on the fourth line with centre Jack Roslovic and Kristian Vesalainen, while playing limited minutes. In Tuesday’s 2-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings, Perreault had just seven minutes, 30 seconds of ice time. That’s his least amount of playing time — games shortened by an injury notwithstanding — in several seasons.
Even playing with Matt Hendricks and Joel Armia on the club’s fourth line during a stretch early last season earned him 10-plus minutes a game — and the trio produced.
“Ice time definitely makes a difference. The more you get out there, the more chances you get,” Perreault said. “But I’d rather be a fourth-line player on a winning team than a top-line player on a losing team any day, so I’m never going to complain about that.
“Every time I put on an NHL sweater I never take anything for granted, so for me just to be out there helping the team win a game, that’s all I can ask for.”
A high-scoring junior with the Acadie-Bathurst Titan of the QMJHL, Perreault, who hails from Drummondville, Que., has been a fairly consistent 40-point guy since he broke into the NHL with the Washington Capitals in 2010. His best season came two years ago, when he fired 13 goals and added 32 assists with the Jets.
Maurice said the aspects of Perreault’s game make him a persistent contributor, despite what recent scoresheets might suggest.
“I see him as a really, really important part of our team. He can score more points if I move him up and play him with different people. But the structure of our team, we’re a better hockey team,” he said. “I go back to the start of last year when it was Hendricks, Armia and Perreault. And that was a real adjustment for him. That’s the first time he got out of the top three (lines) here. And they scored big goals for us. When Matty did that, it hopefully changed the view of the rest of the players in the room about how important that role is, that fourth line, how important those minutes are to your team’s success.
“He’s a really big part of the team. And not just, ‘He’s a great guy.’ He’s a really good player for us. And when you have two young players on that fourth line and you know there’s going to be injuries, he’s an important player for us because he is going to go up and take more minutes and he’s got to be ready to do that.”
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).