The Winnipeg Jets are hoping the early bird gets the worm by wasting no time hitting the ice Monday for the start of a unique summer training camp.
Coach Paul Maurice will run the first of two groups through their paces starting at 7:45 a.m., which resembles more of a Timbits ice slot than an NHL one. The other batch of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed skaters are set for a 9 a.m. workout.
The Jets have included 18 forwards, 12 defencemen and three goaltenders on their roster. Teams must trim down to a maximum of 31 players in time for the start of the 24-team Stanley Cup tournament on Aug. 1
One notable omission for the Jets is veteran centre Bryan Little, who suffered a devastating ear and head injury last November after being struck by a slapshot. He had resumed skating with the club prior to the season being paused in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and there was some hope he could be ready for a return. That no longer appears to be the case.
Maurice, along with general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, are expected to speak today and will no doubt address Little’s status.
Kristian Vesalainen, the 2017 first-rounder, is also a mild surprise at not being included in the forward group, which is comprised of Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor, Patrik Laine, Nikolaj Ehlers, Cody Eakin, Adam Lowry, Andrew Copp, Jack Roslovic, Nick Shore, Mathieu Perreault, Mason Appleton, Jansen Harkins Gabriel Bourque, Logan Shaw, Mark Letestu, David Gustafsson and C.J. Suess.
Of those, Gustafsson and Suess were on the Manitoba Moose roster at the time the season came to a halt, while Letestu was working his way back from injury.
On the blue-line, the Jets have added Moose call-ups Logan Stanley, the 2016 first-rounder who has yet to make his NHL debut, and Nelson Nogier to a group of regulars which includes Josh Morrissey, Dylan DeMelo, Neal Pionk, Dmitry Kulikov, Nathan Beaulieu, Tucker Poolman, Luca Sbisa, Anthony Bitetto, Sami Niku and Carl Dahlstrom.
Moose starter Eric Comrie joins Vezina Trophy favourite Connor Hellebuyck and his backup, Laurent Brossoit, in goal. Teams are allowed to carry up to five goaltenders for camp, and there was some thought the Jets would include Moose rookie Mikhail Berdin.
Three of the listed roster players are not included in either skating group Monday — Bitetto, Nogier and Stanley. Maurice will likely shed some light on why that’s the case.
The Jets will hold daily skates at Bell MTS Iceplex under strict health and safety protocols, which includes closing the building to fans. They will also undergo daily COVID-19 testing.
Winnipeg will travel to the hub city of Edmonton on July 26 and begin living in the so-called “bubble” before facing off against the Calgary Flames in a best-of-five qualifying series.
The winner advances to the traditional round of 16, playing either Colorado, Dallas, Vegas or St. Louis. The loser has a one-in-eight chance at landing the No. 1 overall draft pick and projected franchise player Alexis Lafrenière, based on the results of last month’s draft lottery in which a yet-to-be-determined placeholder team had the ping pong ball bounce their way.
Players ratified the return-to-play protocols last Friday, along with a four-year extension of the collective bargaining agreement that provides guaranteed labour peace through the 2025-26 season.
They have until Monday to notify their teams if they wish to opt out of this summer’s playoffs for personal reasons. Several have already done so this past weekend, including Flames defenceman (and Manitoba native) Travis Hamonic.
There’s no indication any Jets have taken this route.
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.
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