Logan Stanley did some of his best work in sneakers this summer preparing for his third NHL training camp.
The Winnipeg Jets blue-line prospect spent considerable time on the field in Waterloo, Ont., focusing on quickness, an area of his game that required a significant upgrade from his junior days.
Stanley’s other assets are easy to spot — he’s 6-7 and pushing 235 pounds, a giant of a man at only 20 years of age. The old saying goes, “You can’t teach size,” so the Jets’ first-round draft pick (from 2016) is doing just fine in that regard.
Increasing his foot speed — getting from point A to point B more rapidly, turning swiftly and backpedalling in a hurry — was the priority during the off-season.
“Being a big guy, I’ve got to be able to move,” Stanley said Tuesday at the Bell MTS Iceplex. “There’s really no room for those big guys who can’t skate anymore, so you’ve got to be able to move. The game’s fast, so I definitely focused on that this summer.”
He has clearly made strides. On Monday night, Stanley was paired with another towering defenceman, Dustin Byfuglien, during Winnipeg’s pre-season opener, a 2-1 win over the visiting Minnesota Wild, and was noticeably smoother and more agile on his skates than in previous looks.
Throughout the early part of training camp, the awkwardness that was apparent in appearances in Winnipeg and in Penticton, B.C., at the Young Stars tournaments has been displaced by a steadier approach to gap control, puck retrieval and puck movement.
Having a foreman such as Byfuglien on the ice dictating the play and barking out directions Monday at Bell MTS Place was an added bonus.
“He makes it easy. He’s always talking out there and he’s definitely got a lot of experience. He’s always open, and knows where to be on the ice and he definitely helps out young guys,” Stanley said.
“It’s every guy’s dream here to play in the NHL, or every guy’s goal. It’s definitely mine, too. They’ve got a lot of depth at D, but I’m still going to try to prove myself and try to crack the lineup” – Logan Stanley
All that comes with preparedness and confidence, Stanley said, noting off-season work with personal trainers near his home out east challenged his leg strength, balance and mobility.
“A lot of track work, sprints and change of direction, shuttle runs (bursts of speed)… crossing over and into a sprint. A lot of stuff like that helps, just keep getting you stronger, more powerful,” said Stanley, who played 17:38 against the Wild, blocking four shots and administering a pair of hits.
“(Skating) is a bit of a different motion. But your hips are stronger when you’re sprinting, and you need your hips when you’re skating to pull those legs back in. So, it does transfer over and you can notice a difference, for sure.”
On-ice fitness testing last week confirmed he’s shaved time off the clock in skating drills, Stanley said.
It’s a reach to consider him a candidate for work with the Jets in 2018-19. But he’s a lock to earn a roster spot with the club’s AHL squad, the Manitoba Moose, and leave behind a tremendous junior career — highlighted by a Memorial Cup national championship in 2017 with the Windsor Spitfires, and a final season spent with the Kitchener Rangers close to his home.
But there’s no point in shooting for anything short of the moon.
“It’s every guy’s dream here to play in the NHL, or every guy’s goal. It’s definitely mine, too. They’ve got a lot of depth at D, but I’m still going to try to prove myself and try to crack the lineup,” Stanley said.
Jets head coach Paul Maurice said Stanley’s skills are demonstrably enhanced since the 2017 camp.
“For sure. We saw it in (June) development camp, his foot speed is much better. He’s an exceptionally large man, and if he can stay on the path that he’s on and he can get quicker and faster, then we’re going to have another really big defenceman that can skate and can move,” Maurice said. “His hands are very good, his reads are very good. I don’t know if surprised is the right word, but certainly pleased at the one-year improvement.”
The AHL’s 2018 rookie of year, Mason Appleton, suited up for his first pre-season NHL game Monday, playing on a forward line with Seth Griffith and Nicolas Kerdiles.
Appleton, who fired 22 goals and added 44 assists for the Moose just a year after leaving Michigan State to turn pro, admitted the nerves got to him at the start, and it took awhile for his instincts to kick in.
“Kind of a feeling-out process in your first pre-season game, so I think there’s definitely stuff to learn from that. I need to be better next game and make more stuff happen, but overall it was definitely a building block,” the 22-year-old winger from Green Bay, Wis., said.
Appleton played just over 13 minutes, directed a couple of shots at Wild goalie Andrew Hammond and dished a couple of hits along the wall. Not a bad night’s work, but not enough to satisfy him.
“I just felt like I want to make more stuff happen, play better on both sides of the puck, just have more of a presence out there. I think in that first game you can get caught up in the emotions and just sit back a little bit, but I have to get on my toes more and make stuff happen,” he said.
While his fellow countryman, Patrik Laine, spent the summer trying to trim weight off his 6-5 frame, Sami Niku was doing his best to bulk up for training camp.
The end result?
“Maybe 10 pounds. Of course, I ate and spent a lot of time in the gym,” said Niku, a revelation for the Moose last season, scoring 16 goals and helping set up 38 others in the defenceman’s North American pro debut.
The added beef doesn’t appear to have slowed down the 21-year-old, a relative afterthought when he was picked 198th overall (seventh round) in the 2015 NHL draft. He’s a slick skater and his choices on the ice are wise when given time and space.
But, winning puck battles is a challenge, evidenced by the times the Wild knocked him around below the goal-line.
“I think, like, boxing out is the biggest thing right now. I have to get bigger. I’m bigger than last year, but maybe a little bit more,” he said.
Expect Niku to play huge minutes for the Moose this season, given the number of Jets veterans who can play the left side naturally — Josh Morrissey, Dmitry Kulikov, Ben Chiarot and Joe Morrow — and the clear understanding that rightie Tyler Myers will, at least initially, play his off side with Byfuglien.
Winnipeg sent three players, all defenceman, back to their Canadian junior teams Tuesday.
Declan Chisholm was assigned to Peterborough of the Ontario Hockey League, Giovanni Vallati was returned to Oshawa of the OHL and Leon Gawanke was sent to Cape Breton of the Quebec Major Junior League.
The Jets still have 27 forwards, 17 defencemen and five goalies at training camp.
Assistant sports editor
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).