Northern Touch: The Young Guns & a New Era

What is the “Northern Touch?” Sure, it’s a throwback Canadian hip-hop reference, but … in lieu of a drawn-out and formal article-style column in this space, I will touch on bite-sized thoughts, issues, and ideas surrounding the Winnipeg Jets, who sport a northern-notch in their logo’s roundel. I call this space “Northern Touch,” and I hope you enjoy.

When the announcement rang out the Jets were returning to Winnipeg, I was a newly-minted journalism school graduate working as an intern for a small magazine publisher in the city. On May 31, 2011 I was fortunate enough to be inside MTS Centre when hockey history was inked in Manitoba. Little did I realize, that day would be the beginning of a young career covering NHL hockey. 

I have always loved the game — and I hold a similar affinity for sports journalism as a whole. I am a radio broadcaster, a multimedia reporter, and rarely a day goes by I fail to realize how fortunate I am to cover and report on pro sports for a living. While my primary focus has been CFL football and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers over the last number of years, and I haven’t been able to really sink my teeth into hockey coverage on a consistent basis, I am beyond excited to really dive into what I see as a young and exciting new era of Winnipeg Jets hockey as I join Jets Nation and the Nation Network as a weekly columnist.

You can always reach out to me on Twitter @DarrinBauming if you want to chat or learn more about my daily work.

Alright, enough of the introductory stuff. Let’s get into it.  

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  • When Patrik Laine scored his first NHL goal the other night — on the PP late in the third — MTS Centre absolutely exploded. It reminded me of so many nights that first season back in 2011-2012, when every single home game sported multiple GoJetsGo chants. Maybe a rare talent like Laine can resurrect those days again. 
  • And how about the screen on Patrik Laine’s first-career goal — while a beauty snapper — who laid the huge screen? Drew Stafford … (I’ll likely dig into more on Stafford another time). 
  • Speaking of the Jets home opener last week, what a beautiful tribute to Len ‘Kroppy’ Kropioski. Such a kind man, and clearly a dedicated fan in love with the Winnipeg Jets.
  • Man, is Josh Morrissey ever a pleasure to watch skate. It’s the little things he does; acceleration burst, turning, change of direction. I saw a lot of him last season as I covered the majority of his home games with the Manitoba Moose (that is until he had his season shortened due to injury). If he continues to develop his offensive skills while adding some grit to his game, fans are going to like this new No. 44.
  • Morrissey on the Jets’ top pair with Dustin Byfuglien — good move. This immediately shows Morrissey what it’s like at the top level of the National Hockey League, and it’ll likely be up to the 21-year-old rookie if he wants to stay paired with DB33.  
  • Similar to Morrissey’s early role here (and Patrik Laine’s, and Kyle Connor’s), I like how Paul Maurice called on Connor Hellebuyck to start between the pipes in Game 1. It makes a clear statement to both the player and the team. And the fans. Who is the No. 1 guy come March and April? We have an indication as to whom the club would like it to be.
  • That said, I imagine Connor Hellebuyck would like to forget his season debut. A little rough around the edges, to put it politely. His second game was a 4-1 loss to the Bruins on Monday night where the 2012 5th-round pick allowed three goals on 24 shots in his 28th-career NHL game. I asked the 23-year-old how he would compare it to his start four days earlier:  “A whole lot better. I’m progressing every day and I think I’m getting back to my mid-season form here. I think it’s only going to keep improving at a pretty fast rate.” 
  • Shawn Matthias. There were a lot of questions out on social media as to why he got the opening night nod on the second line flanking Bryan Little. And what does he do in his first game as a Jet? He opens the scoring with a roof-job past Carolina’s Cam Ward in the opening five minutes of the game. 
  • Joel Armia looks like a nice player. I was happy to see him back in the Game 3 lineup after being a healthy scratch in Game 2. I wonder how Maurice will handle these decisions this season with some of the young role/depth-guys. I asked Armia Monday night if it is challenging to grow his game while in and out of the lineup. Armia didn’t bite, saying simply he will continue to work hard in practice and in games to improve. I get the sense Paul Maurice will use his lineup decisions as a tool to motivate and drive his young players. Maybe it’s a good thing to have some vets up in the press box. 
  • Something that took me by surprise a little bit — Armia, Monday night in his post-game availability: “This is probably actually the first place I’ve been doing penalty kill. I haven’t done it before that much, but I like it.”
  • Dustin Byfuglien continues his torrid ice-time pace this season. Entering Monday night, DB33 lead all NHL players (with more than one game played) in average T.O.I. at 29:38, and logged 30:05 of ice-time against the Bruins, including 5:20 on the power play. That’s one minute per shift. Can the 31-year-old sustain this all season? It’s something I’ll be watching.
  • The Jets’ power play is stinky — it really needs to get clicking. Winnipeg finished dead last in the NHL in power-play efficiency last season. They went 0-for-5 on Monday night to put them at 1-for-13 on year. Call it a work-in-progress. Call it broken. I’ll wait a bit more than three games with a bunch of youngsters as heavy PP contributors before dropping any hammers on it.