The ink is barely dry on his new contract, but Derek Forbort figures the Winnipeg Jets might want to consider throwing a little extra his way.
“I should almost get a coaching fee for the drills I’ve been running Samberg and Pionk through here in Duluth,” the team’s newest defenceman joked on Tuesday as he spoke, via Zoom, from his off-season home in Minnesota.
Forbort, 28, signed a one-year, US$1-million deal with the Jets on Sunday. There won’t be a need for many introductions with his new team, considering fellow blue-liners and off-season workout partners Dylan Samberg and Neal Pionk, captain Blake Wheeler, forward C.J. Suess and new forward signing Dominic Toninato are other members of Winnipeg’s “Minnesota Mafia.”
“Growing up, I was an umpire and I umped (Pionk) a few times. The strike zone got pretty big when he was up to bat. We’re over that now,” Forbort said. “There’s a lot of Minnesota guys, which is kind of funny. I remember watching Wheeler play with the (University of Minnesota Golden Gophers) and (from)playing against him, he seems like an awesome captain.”
Forbort played three years of college hockey just down the highway at the University of North Dakota and was drafted in the first round, 15th overall, by the Los Angeles Kings. That included a few trips across the border into Manitoba to take advantage of the younger drinking age, along with an exhibition game against Clarkson at Bell MTS Place.
“I’ve gotten to know the city a little bit and I’ve got a couple buddies who are from Winnipeg and I’ve been up there a few times to hang out with them. It seems like an awesome city, a great hockey town and I’m excited to get to know the city a little more,” he said.
After a few years in the minors, Forbert found a home in southern California as a defence partner with Drew Doughty on a Kings team that went into a major rebuild after winning Stanley Cup championships in 2012 and 2014.
“He is such a good leader and he kinda took me under his wing and taught me new things every day. He’s pretty special. Not everyone can be as loosey and goosey out there and still play at that level. The way he has fun out there, the way he just plays and the way he competes, it just kind of rubs off on you,” said Forbort.
The 6-4, 219-pound left shot was shipped to Calgary at the trade deadline last February and helped them beat the Jets in the best-of-five qualifying round playoff series in Edmonton. The Dallas Stars doused the Flames in the next round, and Forbort became an unrestricted free agent.
“I’m excited to not be chasing around (Kyle) Connor, (Mark) Scheifele and Wheeler. Just playing them in that playoff round — obviously they lost Scheifele right away (to injury) — and just kind of seeing how hard they kept fighting, just kept battling even though they were so short-handed. That’s just the kind of team you want to join, a team you want to go to battle with. I’m excited to join them,” said Forbort.
Exactly where he slots in remains to be seen. Josh Morrissey is the clear No. 1 on the left side, but things get a bit muddled after that. Forbort, newly re-signed Nathan Beaulieu, along with his training partner Samberg and second-year pro Ville Heinola could all be competing for the No. 2 and No. 3 spots. The right side seems a bit more set, with Pionk and Dylan DeMelo in the top two pairings and Tucker Poolman likely on the third. Other depth options include Sami Niku and Luca Sbisa.
There are also ongoing rumblings the Jets may be looking to add an impact defenceman, likely through trading forward Jack Roslovic. In other words, what you see right now may not be what you get when the puck drops on the 2021 NHL season no earlier than Jan. 1.
“Winnipeg was a team, when we started out, that might need some help on the left side, so we kind of had them (in mind), hoping they would offer something. It came together and I was pretty excited that they offered me a contract. Hopefully I can come in and help the boys,” said Forbort.
“I’m a defence-first guy, I’m a penalty killer, I like blocking shots and I think that’s something… the Jets have so many good offensive weapons, a lot of really good offensive D, if I can come in and help stabilize and play sound defence and play good on the penalty kill, I think that will help the team out.”
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