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There’s no real mystery as to the makeup of Winnipeg’s two training camp groups.
The daily “A” session has all of last year’s returning NHL players, plus a handful of skaters who are in the mix for one of the few available roster spots. The “B” session includes players who will likely be the bulk of the Manitoba Moose roster, along with a few prospects expected to soon be returned to their junior-age clubs.
Jets coach Paul Maurice said Wednesday he prefers separating his players this way, rather than balancing both sessions evenly, as many teams do.
“We can change the practices slightly to take more time with the younger players, to teach more. Where you don’t want to necessarily do that with the top group, you want the heart rates up for a certain amount of time, you want them to drive,” said Maurice.
Training camps aren’t as long as they used to be, and on Thursday, the Jets begin a stretch playing their final six pre-season games over the next eight nights. As a result, Maurice wants to spend as much time as possible with his NHL team to get them ready for the regular season.
“We just felt we couldn’t take four or five days to kinda work our way into it. It used to be teams would scrimmage for three or four days and then they’d cut some guys. But we used to have five weeks in training camp. Your challenge was how do you keep them from getting bored. So now we don’t have time. We know a lot of these players, there’s not a tremendous amount of questions on who the player is and how they would fit,” said Maurice.
And while it may be discouraging for players who are in the B group and had hoped to have a crack at the roster this season, Maurice said nobody is hanging their heads.
“Not all the jobs are open, we all know that. But we’ll find you. If you’re having a good camp, you’ll stay a little longer and get into an exhibition game. For a lot of these guys, making the team on day one clearly isn’t as important as being there at the end. I go back to a bunch of guys, Nic Petan started here and finished last season in the American League, Kyle Connor started down and finishes up. So it’s not the be all, end all. You don’t get that call ‘Hey, Mom and Dad I made the team and I’m here for good.’ Rarely is that happening,” said Maurice.
“I think they (Group B) gets better instruction. And I also think there’s a block in there that get confident. Nobody wants to hit Blake Wheeler in the ankles with a pass, and he scowls at you and he snorts at you. You’ll find that younger guys aren’t showing you what they can do, because they’re not playing, they’re keeping everybody else on the ice happy. So this way they push harder, they feel good, there’s a different kind of relaxation. And then you get in the games and you have to get over that at some point anyway. It’s almost easier for them to do that.”
Nic Petan has been granted a personal leave of absence to deal with what the team said is a “family situation.”
“There’s no real timetable on that for a return,” Maurice said Wednesday.
Petan is one of several players locked in a battle for full-time work in the A group, along with Marko Dano, Kristian Vesalainen and Brendan Lemieux. Maurice assessed what he’s seen so far from the four.
“Really fierce. I’ve seen one game, but we know that Petan and Dano have played in the NHL and played a lot. Vesalainen has been good in practice and his game. When you watch you say you can fit that into an NHL game. How many minutes I’m not sure yet. We’re still learning. And Brendan Lemieux has been really good as well,” said Maurice.
Also missing from Wednesday’s on-ice sessions were defencemen Dustin Byfuglien and Dmitry Kulikov.
Maurice said both are dealing with “minor maintenance” and should be back on the ice soon. Byfuglien played in Monday’s pre-season opener and played close to 25 minutes. He left Tuesday’s skate early. Kulikov had off-season back surgery but has been a full participant in training camp with no restrictions.
Eric Comrie gets the start in goal Thursday night for the Jets as they head to Edmonton for their second of seven pre-season games.
The Manitoba Moose regular will be looking to make a good impression as he battles to be Connor Hellebuyck’s back-up. Laurent Brossoit, who had a 39-save performance in Monday’s 2-1 win over Minnesota at Bell MTS Place, will be on the bench.
Josh Morrissey and Jacob Trouba will lead a young blue-line group that includes Sami Niku, Logan Stanley, Tucker Poolman and Joe Morrow playing for the second time in as many games.
Up front, Vesalainen, Dano, Lemieux, Jack Roslovic, Mason Appleton and Seth Griffith will also dress for a second straight game. Adam Lowry, Brandon Tanev, Andrew Copp, Michael Spacek, JC Lipon and Dennis Everberg will all be making their pre-season debuts.
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.