It was the first day of camp. It was the first day of pre-season. NHL hockey is only just around the corner.
While some may say that too much is made of training camp and the lines, there are some things that can be extracted from coaching decisions and their words.
The Winnipeg Jets had their first on-ice practice today and here are 5 story lines to watch through training camp and pre-season.
With five top-nine centres, two must move to wing
The Jets hold five centres with top-nine NHL experience in Bryan Little, Mark Scheifele, Mathieu Perreault, Alexander Burmistrov, and Adam Lowry.
The day prior to camp, Jets’ coach Maurice spoke about the Jets needing to move two centres to the wing. Mathieu Perreault is already a favourite to be one of the two, which leaves one more needing to switch.
In the first group of skaters the Jets gave a trial run placing Lowry between Little and Andrew Ladd.
This is not the first Lowry has played with the captain. The two were paired with Michael Frolik while Little was injured with some success (a 54 per cent Corsi%).
Maurice noted that the Jets will look into other possibilities during the pre-season: “Without mixing these guys up too much, I’d like to look at two or three different possibilities because those things are going to happen during the year.”
Burmistrov and Lowry have both played wing previously in the NHL and may be looked to do so again.
One open spot in the Jets top-nine
The same five centres, plus wingers Ladd, Blake Wheeler, and Drew Stafford, are likely all-but-guaranteed spots in the Jets top three lines. This leaves one spot open for the taking.
In an interview with Bob McKenzie, Jets’ GM Kevin Cheveldayoff singled out three candidates to fill the final winger role: Nic Petan, Joel Armia, and Nikolaj Ehlers.
The Jets second group at camp included two possible middle-six lines the Jets, and it appears that Ehlers will be the first given a tryout in the top-nine. Scheifele was reunited between Stafford and Wheeler, while Burmistrov was placed between Perreault and Ehlers.
“We are not going to come into training camp and mix all the forwards together to see how guys do,” Maurice said. “We will start with a pretty defined look at lines and move them around specifically to get that look.”
The fourth line is wide open
Maurice mentioned in an interview with TSN1290 that the Jets skaters are being trialled in the roles they are trying out for. Every player is purposely placed in particular situations.
In practice the Jets tread five different lines with all pro-contract players who are trying out for the fourth line spot.
The most common combinations were:
Chris Thorburn, Nic Petan, Thomas Raffl
Brendan Lemieux, Andrew Copp, Joel Armia
Matt Halischuk, Patrice Cormier, Anthony Peluso
Matt Fraser, Ryan Olsen, Scott Kosmachuk
JC Lipon, Chase De Leo, Austen Brassard
The placement of Petan causes some interest, as it shows the Jets are open to Nic Petan playing on the fourth line for the Jets. Thorburn is likely the only staple on the Jets fourth line where it is his spot to lose and his placement with Petan and pro-tryout winger Raffl is very intriguing.
While Petan may not be the prototypical fourth line centre, the Chicago Blackhawks have run one of the league’s best fourth lines with a smaller skilled centre in Marcus Kruger. The Jets placing Petan with real fourth line options instead of the younger players means that management views it as a possibility.
Lemieux, Copp, and Armia have been placed together as the three front runners for the Jets’ youth pushing for fourth line roles as direct competition against those on Petan line.
Then Cormier line then consists of players who are fighting for spots as pressbox extras on the Jets and are likely back ups if the other two lines are unable to make the cut.
The remaining Olsen and De Leo lines consist of long shots who will likely start the season in the American Hockey League.
Status quo being kept at defense and goaltending
In the same interview with TSN1290, Maurice also mentioned that the Jets will likely keep the same starting six defenders, and the same two goaltenders, as the end of last season.
“It’s always best in my mind in those two positions, if you can have those players develop in the American Hockey League,” Maurice said when asked about Josh Morrissey and Connor Hellebuyck. However, he also mentioned that “a great training camp can push people down the list.”
The Jets will likely keep the defensive pairings the same as well.
While Myers was absent from the Jets skate, the team consistently rolled out Mark Stuart with Jacob Trouba and Ben Chiarot with Dustin Byfuglien.
Maurice previously discussed that “if those six prove to be the six we start with, I liked them in the pairings that they played with.” However, Trouba was trialled on his offside a few times in practice.
While Maurice mentioned that this is predominately to experiment for options incase of injuries, the Jets have previously and may once-again place Trouba with Byfuglien during high-pressure, end-game minutes.
Injuries going into camp
One of the joys of training camp is that everyone arrives at top shape, well rested and healed from the season prior… most everyone that is.
The Jets have a few players coming in with bumps and bruises.
Tyler Myers did not skate with the Jets players and locals at the IcePlexthe days prior to camp and was absent for the first day of camp as well. Maurice noted that the injury was only minor and the Jets were keeping him off the ice as a precaution. They are only waiting for full health prior to pushing the defender in camp.
John Albert and Jussi Olkinuora, to Manitoba Moose AHL contracts, were also absent due to “preexisting injuries” and they will hopefully be healthy soon.
Also not skating was Jan Kostalek, who was injured in the final game of the YoungStars tournament. Kostalek was significantly shaken up after an errant hit to the head in Penticton.
The big story though was Grant Clitsome. Clitsome failed the physical and Maurice stated that the defender was not expected to play this year.
Clitsome’s presence as a depth on the blue line will be missed. He was an exceptionally efficient penalty killer, adequate secondary option on the power play, and carried decent numbers in both shot metrics and scoring rates for 5v5 situations.