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It wasn’t the homecoming Brendan Leipsic was hoping for, but the fifth-year pro still has a zeal for the game and a determination to earn regular work in the NHL.
On Thursday, with his Vancouver Canucks making their lone regular-season visit to Bell MTS Place, the 24-year-old Winnipegger was on the outside looking in again, spending extra time on the ice during the morning skate with his fellow healthy scratches.
“Right now, I’m kinda waiting for my opportunity and working hard every day,” Leipsic said. “I’m trying to be ready when I get my chances. I’ve played three games, so I haven’t had a huge opportunity to show myself here but it’s a long season. Hopefully, I’ll get in at some point.”
Entering Thursday’s action, the 5-10, 179-pound left-winger had dressed for three of Vancouver’s six games, registering a game-winning goal for his lone point.
He’s starving for playing time now, after a fine showing with the Canucks following a mid-season trade from the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017-18. In 14 games with Vancouver last spring, he potted three goals and nine points.
In 44 games with Vegas before that, he had two goals and 13 points.
For a man on an expiring contract (he’s in the final year of two-year, US$1.3-million deal), time is of the essence. He played Vancouver’s first two games on the fourth line and got a brief shot playing with the club’s No. 1 unit with Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat.
“Really, they’re going with the lineup that they want,” Leipsic said. “I do everything I can in practice, work hard. Injuries happen, so whenever I get in, I thought I had a good camp and decent pre-season. I thought I played well when I had my chances but I just have to stay ready.
“It’s early in the season (and when) you’re playing on the fourth line, only eight minutes a game, and then play on the first line for a short amount of time, it’s hard to get things going.”
Added Canucks head coach Travis Green: “Well, he hasn’t played much and he’s gotta wait for his opportunity. We saw what he can do last year and hopefully, when he gets in, he’ll provide that.”
YOUTH BEING SERVED
The Winnipeg Jets have become even younger this season with the arrival of 19-year-old Kristian Vesalainen and 22-year-old Brendan Lemieux.
Jets head coach Paul Maurice was asked if those additions, combined with the departure of locker-room leader Matt Hendricks, who went to the Minnesota Wild via free agency, has resulted in a leadership vacuum.
“There’s two comments — the first one is we’re going to have to get used to it because it’s the way our team’s going to look, right?” Maurice said. “When you look at what some of these younger and older players are going to command in salary, we’re going to have a very young, entry-level, bottom part of our team. That’s just a fact.
“And Matty Perreault has filled in nicely, sometimes in French, sometimes in English. He’s the guy. And when that happens, though, Adam Lowry’s voice becomes more important in the room, and Mark Scheifele, some of those 25-, 26-year-old guys who might have been quiet early on.”
“I’m not expecting Vesalainen or (21-year-old Jack) Roslovic to be leading the cheer, but bringing energy on the ice when they play.”
A TEMPEST IN A TEAPOT?
Vancouver’s arrival sparked more questions for Jets winger Patrik Laine, who gently mocked the Canucks earlier this month for banning video games on road trips, telling reporters: “They need something to blame after last year.”
Some Canucks took offence to Laine’s comments at the time but the 20-year-old Finn, an avid gamer himself, wasn’t worried about any on-ice controversy.
“Oh, if I’m being honest, I don’t really care,” Laine said. “It’s just something I said, it was meant as a joke, but I think somebody’s probably going to mention that, but I’m just going to say nothing and focus on playing hockey and focus on winning.”
Linemate and fellow gamer Nikolaj Ehlers expected a rude reception.
“I’d definitely chirp them back,” Ehlers said. “I mean, I think everybody took it a little hard but the people that know Patty know that he just says some weird stuff sometimes and doesn’t mean it as a chirp, he just makes a little fun. Hopefully, we get some chirps out there. I’m fired up.”
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.