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VETERAN forward Mathieu Perreault has been tasked with mentoring a pair of young Winnipeg Jets prospects as part of an intriguing new line that will look to impress right out of the gate.
Perreault, 30, skated on the right wing Saturday with 19-year-old Kristian Vesalainen and 21-year-old Jack Roslovic.
“I like Matty Perreault with everybody,” coach Paul Maurice explained of the move.
Winnipeg’s top line heading into the season is seemingly set in stone, with Mark Scheifele between Blake Wheeler and Kyle Connor. As well, the effective checking trio of Adam Lowry, Andrew Copp and Brandon Tanev is expected to remain intact.
It also appears Bryan Little will start between Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers. That left the composition of the line involving Perreault as somewhat of a mystery.
“Really good players, and it is going to be fun to play with those guys,” Vesalainen said following the skate at Bell MTS Iceplex.
The other trio Saturday was Nic Petan between Marko Dano and Brendan Lemieux.
“I want to see Jack in the middle. So, Kristian Vesalainen… there’s about nine guys who are going to be moved around here in the next three weeks. Little’s line, and call it Roslovic’s line and Petan’s line, but Petan is also going to get some time on the wing because there’s probably more room on the right wing on this team — and we are interested in seeing Jack play some time at centre, so the right-wing hole is probably bigger,” Maurice said.
“So, we’ll move some people into that. I liked (Vesalainen) today, but you learn over the years not to get too excited or too dejected after the first hour of the season. They look good. There is some skill there, for sure.”
Roslovic primarily played centre for the Manitoba Moose last year, but skated on the wing when he was up with the Jets for 31 regular-season games. Maurice said, ideally, he uses Roslovic up the middle going forward.
“He’s a very bright man. He understands the game. The question early for most centremen is, can they get out of that shark routine, where they want to build speed ahead of the puck? There’s a defensive responsibility as a centre, which means you are late coming out of your end a fair amount. The way we play, we put the puck into the middle of the ice an awful lot, and we’ll do it right in our end of the ice and we need a guy who can handle the puck and has the hands to do it,” Maurice said.
“Also, the smarts of finding that hole to take that puck. He’s got that, he’s always had that. Can he find the sort-outs? That’s probably the next big thing, the switch-offs and the guys coming from the high slot. We think we’ve seen enough of that, and some of that is just experience.
“He’s got to get some reps in at centre. He has the skill set for it.”
Roslovic said Saturday he’s up for the challenge ahead, and has spoken with centre Mark Scheifele about what to expect at this level.
“Now, I kind of have to have that defensive reliability there for my wingers. That’s something I want pride myself on, not just my offensive abilities,” Roslovic said.
“I do pride myself on my skating ability, so as a centre, you definitely have to have that. Or you don’t really have to have that, but it’s definitely going to help me. It is suited for the game, and I think I can take on the challenge.”
Roslovic said Perreault “drives the pace every day” through hard work, while Vesalainen’s big body and talent are evident.
“With this new position, I hope that I can get adjusted quick, and I think I can. It will be a good year,” 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.