The plot continues to thicken when it comes to the Winnipeg Jets’ blue line.
One of the biggest question marks entering training camp was how the new-look pairing of Tyler Myers and Dustin Byfuglien would look. Through two pre-season games, the answer to many has been “not good.”
Myers, a right-handed shot, seemed out of sorts playing on the left side.
So, it was noteworthy that Myers was back on the right side during Tuesday’s on-ice workout, skating with Ben Chiarot. Joe Morrow took his place beside Byfuglien, while Dmitry Kulikov and Tucker Poolman appeared to be the extra pair.
Jacob Trouba was in his usual spot on the top duo, although Sami Niku took the place of regular partner Josh Morrissey. Jets head coach Paul Maurice said Morrissey should return to action today.
So, what to make of all this? Is the Myers experiment over already?
“Paul and I are keeping pretty tight communication on it. We had a pretty good meeting about it (Monday). I’m sure I’ll see both the right and left side this year. So, we’ll see what happens here in the next few days. Things change from day to day. We’ll see how it goes,” Myers said following the skate.
He admits the transition hasn’t been easy.
“There’s things you sometimes see that make it little bit harder, for sure. I don’t think anyone would deny that. But, you know, you almost have to approach it as a simpler game. Just with the different angles, you’re not able to do some of the things you might see or want to do. Whatever comes in the next week or two, I’m ready for it. Excited to get the year going. It doesn’t really affect me either way,” Myers said.
Maurice would only say nothing is set in stone at this point.
“I’m not really hiding anything from you. I know two things: he can do it. And he can also play the right. And he’s gonna do both,” Maurice said.
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Niku is making things interesting with a strong pre-season that includes a pair of goals in Monday’s 5-4 overtime win against the Flames in Calgary. But the smooth-skating Finnish blue-liner wasn’t very happy with his overall play.
“I scored those two goals, but that was the only good thing in that game. My defensive game can be much better,” Niku said. “Of course I need to (defend). I’m a defenceman. My first thing is defence. Goals are not enough.”
Niku, the reigning AHL defenceman of the year, said he would prefer to work on that part of his game in the NHL this season rather than go back to the Manitoba Moose. While that may not happen at the start of the season, Maurice said Niku isn’t far off.
“The one thing I can say is he’s far closer than he was last year at this time,” Maurice said. “So, the parts of the game that you saw, the outlet passing, the seeing the ice, picking the corners — he didn’t come down and drop his head on those shots, he was trying to get ‘em to a place, especially the first one. It’s all skating. He’s a much better defensive player now than he was a year ago.”
Myers said it’s refreshing to see Niku’s evaluation of his own play even when he has success.
“I think it shows the potential he really does have. It just proves he looks deeper than just the stats sheet. Especially at his age, that’s a great quality to have,” said Myers, who called Niku’s play “really intriguing.”
“He reminds me a lot of a guy like Toby (Enstrom). You know, the way he moves, the way he sees the ice. Very silky out there, which is nice to see. To see him have a couple goals like he did (Monday) night is really good for him. He’ll gain even that much more confidence building off the year he had last year. He’s certainly not out of place out there.”
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Laurent Brossoit had a rough start to his game Monday night, giving up a pair of iffy goals before the first period was at the midway point.
While he didn’t want to make excuses one day later, he did offer a doozy of an explanation for why he felt “brutal” off the hop.
“To be honest, my skates were loose. I’m not even kidding, my skates were still loose, I felt so uncomfortable out there,” Brossoit said Tuesday.
“Misjudgment. Being lazy,” he said of how that occurred. “That’s never happened before. Tied them up at the first intermission and then I was ready to go.”
Brossoit went on to stop 34 shots in the Jets’ overtime victory.
“What is awesome about this job, this is like my 23rd training camp — you do hear new stuff. Never, ever have I heard, ‘You know what? I felt good, I just didn’t tie my skates tight enough.’ That’s a first. That’s awesome,” Maurice said.
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The pace of Tuesday’s skate was noticeably quicker than previous ones. Maurice and several players say that’s by design.
“Christmas is coming, right? They know where this is going to go, so they’ve all got to get a little bit better. But everybody can feel this thing coming,” Maurice said.
The Jets wrap up their pre-season schedule with games tonight in Minnesota and Thursday night at home against the New Jersey Devils. Cuts are expected to be made Friday, and then preparations will begin in earnest on the weekend for the start of the regular season next Thursday against the Blues in St. Louis.
One quirk for the Jets is they won’t have a single pre-season game where they’ll field their whole starting lineup. Maurice plans to use a blend of regulars and prospects in the final two games, which is why the team has kept such a large volume of players around so deep into camp.
“You can even just tell in the coach’s voice. Their expectation, the pace of play in practice is rising. And you saw that (Tuesday). You know, that’s how it should be,” Brossoit said.
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There’s no update on when Nic Petan will be back in camp.
The forward was granted a personal leave of absence following the sudden death of his father, Franc, on Sept. 18. A funeral service for the 56-year-old was held Tuesday in Vancouver.
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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.