The Jets made their third waiver wire pickup of the 2019-20 season Wednesday, grabbing centre Nick Shore from the Toronto Maple Leafs.
That move, coupled with the improving health of wingers Mason Appleton (foot) and Gabriel Bourque (upper body), set the stage for what could be a completely rebuilt fourth line for Winnipeg.
The current trio of David Gustafsson centring Joona Luoto and Logan Shaw has struggled to generate much offensive zone time and neither of the two rookies Luoto or Gustafsson exceeded Shaw’s 8:23 of ice time in Tuesday’s 5-1 win over the visiting Dallas Stars.
The teams meet again Thursday in Big D and the 17-10-1 Jets are on a roll, winners in nine of their last 11 starts while outscoring opponents 38-26 over that span.
Shore, 27, is in his seventh NHL campaign with 257 regular-season games on his resume. Jets head coach Paul Maurice said the organization had been looking for veteran help at centre since Mark Letestu and Bryan Little were sidelined by illness and injury and Shore’s skill set checked the necessary boxes.
“Well, he’s a positionally smart player so he can figure out — you know that kinda good pro — he knows where he’s supposed to be on the ice,” said Maurice. “The addition there is he has hands to make a play. It’s not just off the glass and out. He has an awareness of the ice around him. You want more than just banging the puck out all the time because we’ll put wingers out there that can handle the pucks…
“He’s over 50 (per cent) on faceoffs and he kills penalties — so all of the things we’re looking for.”
Shore, a Denver product, was to meet his new teammates in Dallas Wednesday night, perhaps making his debut Thursday against the Stars. Veteran forward Andrew Copp said the aim should be to integrate the newcomer as quickly as possible.
“You reach out, try to have a little conversation with him tomorrow, and go from there,” said Copp, who was a teammate of Shore’s younger brother Quentin in the U.S. Development Team program. “Once he’s in a game you start talking to him on the bench, giving him pats after a good shift, he starts to feel it right away.
“Hopefully we can get him in the mix right away and make him feel important. Because we’re going to need everybody… he could be an important piece for us.”
Maurice could decide to insert Shore immediately. He was also asked if he was in a hurry to get Bourque and Appleton back in the mix.
“No, not yet — I want them to earn their way back in,” said Maurice. “I like the way our fourth line has played in terms of how hard they’ve played. These guys have battled hard and you’ve got two really young, kind of inexperienced guys there just getting better, right? They are much better now (in the) offensive zone, (Gustafsson) gets his first goal and has a couple of points. Logan’s been the conscience of the line in terms talking to them on the bench, so I’m not first in as soon as a guy’s healthy. We brought those guys into camp and they were picked for a reason.”
The addition of Shore does not mean the 19-year-old Gustafsson will automatically be loaned to the Swedish team at the world junior hockey championship in Ostrava, Czech Republic later this month.
“Clearly we like this guy an awful lot — see him as a long-term Jet,” Maurice said of Gustafsson. “But we don’t want to stunt growth, either. If we think he’d be a whole lot better playing way more minutes — the world junior, that’s not really on my radar. It’s the more minutes, the more touches, would that make him better?
“The progress rate we’ve seen out of him is good. We’ve been talking about this right from Day 1. You’ve got a 19-year-old who can’t go back to the American League and has to go back (to Sweden) if he goes back. What do you do with him? He played good, we got better, so we’ve hung onto him.”
NOTEWORTHY: Defenceman Luca Sbisa, who left Tuesday’s game with a lower-body injury after being struck by Alexander Radulov’s skate, did not practise Wednesday but is expected to suit up in Dallas Thursday… Blue-liner Nathan Beaulieu, sidelined for four games with an upper-body injury, practised Wednesday and could play Thursday.
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.
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