It’s the circle of hockey life.
Just hours after they ushered several former prospects out the door, the Winnipeg Jets rolled out the welcome mat for some new fresh faces Tuesday as their summer development camp got underway at Bell MTS Iceplex.
Sixteen forwards, 11 defenceman and three goalies are participating in this week’s camp, including 2016 first-rounder Logan Stanley, 2017 first-rounder Kristian Vesalainen, Manitoba Moose leading scorer Mason Appleton and 2018 second-rounder David Gustafsson, along with the other five picks from last weekend’s NHL Entry Draft in Dallas.
“You’re always anxious to see some of the new players. Obviously, the scouts felt the need to make the choices there, so you’re anxious to see them come together. You’re anxious to see the second- and third-year guys coming here to see how their development over the years has gone. This is really a great opportunity for us to get a lot of hands-on, face-to-face, one-to-one type of contact,” Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said Tuesday.
On Monday, the Jets didn’t offer qualifying contracts to three former draft picks who are restricted free agents — goalie Jamie Phillips, defenceman Jan Kostalek and forward Jimmy Lodge. They also cut ties recently with another forward prospect in Jordy Stallard by opting not to sign him.
“It’s the evolutionary process of things. With respect to goalies, there’s only so many nets that you have. With respect to players that have gone through three years of entry-level, there’s someone knocking on the door here as well. Again, it’s just all part of the process,” Cheveldayoff said.
Winnipeg also didn’t qualify journeyman depth defenceman Joe Morrow on Monday, but the blue-liner could still be in the fold. Qualifying him would have given Morrow arbitration rights that could have led to the kind of pay raise the Jets simply can’t afford while trying to find a way to sign nine key restricted free agents and remain under the US$79.5-million salary cap.
“We’ve had ongoing discussions with Joe Morrow’s representatives. We anticipate something should work out in our favour there. He had an arbitration case that wasn’t going to be to our availability given our cap type of situation, but he wants to be here, so we think there’s a good chance that we’ll get something done,” Cheveldayoff said.
Vesalainen was the most notable of four prospects who didn’t take to the ice Tuesday. Cheveldayoff said the Finn is dealing with a minor injury, but could skate as early as today. Skyler McKenzie and Santeri Virtanen were also held out of action.
The other missing player was Nathan Smith, selected in the third round of last weekend’s draft. He had travel issues, but is expected to skate today.
THE APPLE OF THEIR EYE: Mason Appleton had a monster rookie season with the Manitoba Moose, shattering franchise records with 22 goals and 44 assists in 76 regular-season AHL games, while being named the league’s rookie of the year.
The 22-year-old is practically a veteran at development camp, and he’s proof that where you’re drafted doesn’t ultimately matter. He was picked in the sixth round, 168th overall, of the 2015 draft, but hasn’t let that stop his surge.
He’s hoping to push for work with the Jets as early as this fall.
“My focus is to focus on what I can control. I’m going to work real hard this summer. I started training a couple of weeks ago, and this camp is going to help me get back into the swing of things and get me in shape. I’m going to stick to my keys. Work hard in the gym, work hard on the ice and hopefully be the best player I can be when it’s time for (training) camp,” Appleton said Tuesday.
His only expectation last year was to make the Moose, so he clearly exceeded that goal.
“From there, my game kind of took off and I turned into a pretty good player in that league. I was pretty happy with my year and, obviously, it’s something to build on,” Appleton said. “I don’t think anything changed. I’m a hard worker, I’m a smart player and had good teammates. I control the things I can and work real hard, and things fall into place when you do those things right.”
Appleton was felled by a concussion during the playoffs and missed the second-round series, in which the Moose were eliminated. He’s now fully recovered from what is the second concussion of his career.
“Playoffs are always the best part of the season, my favourite part always. That’s when your best players have to be your best players. It’s when the cream of the crop rises. Unfortunately, I took that hit and wasn’t able to play. With a head injury, you have to be smart with those, and I didn’t want to rush back. I wish I could have been out there, but unfortunately I was still injured,” he said.
“I cleared all of my symptoms the day after the Moose were eliminated. That obviously sucked to have that happen, but I’m glad I’m healthy and feeling good now.”
Cheveldayoff said Appleton made a heck of a first impression with the franchise.
“He’s got great hockey sense, which gives him the ability to play with a lot of different players. He can play centre and he can play wing, and because of that hockey sense, I think he naturally finds ways to make things happen. He goes hard to the net. He’s becoming that up-and-down type of winger, he played mostly wing, that up-and-down type of winger that has size, drives the net and has some ability,” Cheveldayoff said.
“He’s finding himself, finding his niche. It was a great year for him last year, and he obviously is here to get an update on everything — his development, his strength training and everything like that. He’s a real hungry young prospect we’re going to expect great things from as it continues to go forward.”
Appleton’s goals this summer are similar to those of many players — get quicker, stronger and improve his shot.
“Obviously, wherever I end up, I’m going to be a good player. Wherever I am, I’m going to work hard and control what I can control. Whether I’m with the Moose or with the Jets, it doesn’t matter to me, I’m just going to be the player I can be.”
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.