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It was a summer signing that barely registered a blip on the local hockey radar, but Seth Griffith’s addition to the Winnipeg Jets organization could turn out to be one of those sneaky-smart free-agent depth moves every team needs to succeed.
Griffith, 25, might be one of the most pleasant surprises of training camp so far. The fact he is the only player to dress in four of the first five pre-season games shows that coach Paul Maurice is intrigued by what he’s seen from the forward. He had two assists in three games heading into action Monday night in Calgary.
Griffith told the Free Press he’s pleasantly surprised at how the welcome mat has been rolled out by what is now the fifth different franchise he’s been a part of.
“Going into training camp you never know how many games you’re going to get. Just trying to make the most of it. I’ve been having fun, the guys are great in the room,” Griffith said following Monday’s morning skate at Bell MTS Iceplex.
The former high-scoring junior player with the London Knights (102 goals, 129 assists in 207 regular-season games) was drafted by Boston in the fifth round in 2012 and showed plenty of promise in scoring six goals and four assists in 30 regular-season games in 2014-15.
But since then, the 5-9, 190-pounder has struggled to find regular playing time as he’s moved on to Toronto, Florida and Buffalo. He’s played just 49 NHL games in the three years since his rookie debut, all in a bottom-six role with limited minutes, scoring twice and adding seven assists.
He’s been an elite player at the AHL level, with 81 goals and 162 assists in 249 minor-league games.
“For sure, I’m right there. Even though I haven’t played too many NHL games over the past two seasons, I think I’ve taken strides each season to get better and learn from it. I just took the past few seasons as a learning experience stepping-stone, and I think it made me a better player to this day,” said Griffith.
He opted to sign a one-year, two-way deal with the Jets on July 1 ($650,000 if he’s playing in the NHL) despite knowing the team was pretty stacked with star forwards and promising young prospects.
“I just wanted to come to a good organization that had such a great year last year. With that success, obviously, there’s a core behind it. It’s just a combination of good people out here that I’ve heard about and at the same time wanting to come to a team that’s up and coming with the playoff run they had last year,” said Griffith.
Another selling point, he said, was the fact the AHL team is located in the same market as the NHL club. So if he gets sent down to the Manitoba Moose, as is expected, he won’t be out of sight, out of mind.
“When you’re in the same city, playing in the same building, you can’t get away from them… obviously, that plays a factor as well,” he said.
Griffith is a natural centre but can also play wing, and Maurice said that versatility makes him valuable.
“Some real good jump and real good understanding of the game. Positioning. Exhibition hockey is so unstructured and kind of sloppy, right. You find a guy who knows how to read through that, he’s usually a pretty smart guy. So I like the way he’s played, I’ve liked the way he’s moved. He’s got a real nice set of hands. It’s good, he’s made a positive impression,” said Maurice.
“You’ve got to get on the call-up list. Make a strong enough impression in training camp that if you continue to play well. Whether you make the team opening night or not, those guys’ jobs are just never secure. You learn how to go every day and be ready every day. He looks like he’s got that figured out.”
Griffith, who is from Wallaceburg, Ont., said there was additional comfort coming to Winnipeg in that he played minor AAA hockey with Mark Scheifele, and also against him in the Ontario Hockey League. He also knows defenceman Joe Morrow from their time together in Boston.
“I think I still have a lot of room to improve and I’m trying to get better each and every day. Obviously it’s hard, pre-season — you’re not really too crazy on the structure, you just kinda got to go out there and play. I think as it goes on I can get a lot better,” he said.
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.