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A group of Winnipeg Jets prospects took their lumps in British Columbia this past weekend, dropping a pair of pair of games against some of the brightest Vancouver Canucks hopefuls.
The Winnipeg sqad was routed 8-2 Friday night, then followed that up with a much-improved effort Sunday in a 6-4 defeat as part of the annual “Young Stars Classic.”
This appeared to be a mismatch on paper even before they dropped the puck in Penticton. Winnipeg’s roster didn’t have the same pedigree as Vancouver, which has filled the prospect pool in recent years through high draft picks and trades. For the Jets, many of their best young players are either already in the NHL or weren’t brought out west on the belief it wouldn’t benefit them — including reigning AHL defenceman of the year Sami Niku and reigning AHL rookie of the year Mason Appleton.
The late summer event was whittled down to just the two NHL clubs this year after Edmonton and Calgary pulled out, and some may question what the point was of travelling all that distance just to get beaten down by a superior opponent was. But Manitoba Moose coach Pascal Vincent, who was behind the bench for both games, told the Free Press this exercise was still valuable.
“I could not care less about who (Vancouver) is going to bring there,” Vincent said last week just before the team departed Winnipeg. “The final score, we want to win, we play a hockey game to win the hockey game, but it’s way beyond the result. It’s going to be about the process. I hope they have a great team so we can see our guys playing against great players. We want to see them facing adversity and how they’re going to react.”
Winnipeg faced plenty of adversity in the first lopsided game, but bounced back nicely Sunday after after falling behind 3-0 through 20 minutes. The Jets poured it on and scored three of their own in the middle frame before the Canucks pulled it out in the late stages of the third period.
The Jets did have Kristian Vesalainen (1st round, 2017) playing as a pro for the first time in North America, and he formed a dangerous looking top line along with a pair of second-year pros who played with the Manitoba Moose last season in Michael Spacek (4th round, 2015) and Jansen Harkins (2nd round, 2015).
The trio stood out at times in both games and often tilted the ice in their favour when they were on the ice. Harkins and Spacek both scored Friday, and they helped set up another goal Sunday with some strong forechecking and offensive zone time.
Another standout, especially Sunday, was rookie C.J. Suess (5th round, 2014). He scored, had several other good chances and looks poised to build on the potential he showed late last season after joining the Moose following the conclusion of his college career.
These games were also a chance for others to try to work their way onto the radar of the organization, perhaps as depth signings either for the AHL club or even in the ECHL. Winnipeg brought a half-dozen free agent invites along, and three of them ended up scoring on Sunday in Alexis D’Aoust, Krystof Hrabik and Jimmy Huntington. The 22-year-old D’Aoust — who played last year in the AHL with Vancouver’s farm team — was especially noticeable and also helped set up the goal by Suess.
Winnipeg-born Duncan McGovern also showed well Friday night in net, giving up just two goals after coming on in relief of Mikhail Berdin midway through the game. McGovern is an undrafted 18-year-old who played last season with the Kootenay Ice of the Western Hockey League.
Berdin (6th round, 2016), who is expected to compete for a back-up position with the Moose this year, had a tough debut. He gave up six goals (five on eight shots alone in the middle frame Friday), although it would be hard to fault him on any in particular.
Berdin went the distance Sunday and was much stronger, giving up four goals on the day. Vancouver’s other two came on empty-netters.
Vancouver’s most high-profile young guns certainly flexed their muscles. Elias Pettersson, selected fifth-overall in the 2017 draft, had three goals over the weekend, as did Jonathan Dahlen (2nd round, 2016). Adam Gaudette (5th round, 2015) also had a pair.
Jets defenceman Logan Stanley (1st round, 2016) also showed promised in both games, dishing out several big hits and getting an assist.
Sunday’s game was a feisty affair, with three different scraps. Matt Ustaski (7th round, 2014), Jacob Cederholm (4th round, 2016) and free agent invite Joey Ratelle were the combatants for the Jets, who seemingly didn’t want to go down again without a fight.
Defenceman Giovanni Vallati, picked by the Jets in the 5th round of this summer’s NHL draft in Dallas, sat out Sunday after getting hurt on a hit in Friday’s game.
Winnipegger Jett Woo, selected by Vancouver in the second round (37th overall) in this summer’s NHL draft, did not play either game because of a knee injury suffered in off-season training. He’s also expected to miss the start of training camp.
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.