Winnipeg Jets begin on-ice portion of 2024 Development Camp

Thirty-three of the 35 players whose names appear on the roster of the Winnipeg Jets 2024 Development Camp were in uniform for the first on-ice session Thursday morning at Hockey For All Centre.

Forwards Danny Zhilkin and Chaz Lucius skated in non-contact jerseys while defencemen Elias Salomonsson and Garrett Brown did not participate.

Salomonsson was a bit under the weather, but according to a team spokesperson is expected to join the group for Friday’s on ice workout.

Brown underwent surgery back in late November to repair a lower body injury suffered while playing for the University of Denver and has not yet been cleared to begin skating, but is attending the camp.

Jets director of Player Development Jimmy Roy and his partner Mike Keane were joined by several Jets coaches in putting the players through their paces and enjoys the opportunity to work with prospects he has been following “off the ice” for varying degrees of time.

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“It’s interesting because Mike and myself travel throughout the year and you build relationships with these kids and you get to know them,” said the former Manitoba Moose and Canadian National Team forward.

“We don’t get on the ice with them much, and you go out for supper with them and talk to them here and there and stuff, but to get on the ice it’s a different atmosphere where you’re in their own element, and they’re a lot more comfortable.”

One of two significant names missing from the camp roster is Rutger McGroarty. The Jets 2022 first-round pick (14th overall) is reportedly at odds with the team’s plan to develop him in the minors at the outset of his pro career, believing he is ready to play immediately at the NHL level.

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Roy would not comment on that situation, even though he has probably spent more time with the University of Michigan star forward than anyone else in the Jets hockey department. “I had a great relationship with Rutger, I think I still do. That’s probably more of a comment for Chevy,” said Roy in reference to Jets General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff who has more than once refused to speak publicly about that situation.

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It was interesting that Roy, several times, spoke about the welcome-to-camp speech current Jets captain Adam Lowry delivered to the 35 prospects on Wednesday afternoon. And part of that talk was about Lowry’s own development path after being selected by Winnipeg in the third round of the 2011 NHL entry draft.

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“The thing about Adam, coming from a hockey family he was very driven. He knew what he wanted and how he was going to do things,” was Roy’s recollection of Lowry during the early stages of the Winnipeg Captain’s pro career.

“He talked about his injury that he had at end of the year in Swift Current and then going up to the Moose. He knew the path more than some kids I think because he was coming from a hockey family. He’s a smart guy.”

Even with McGroarty’s much-talked-about absence at this camp, there are other blue chip prospects who could someday wind up in a Winnipeg uniform.

Besides Salomonsson, who was selected in the second round of the 2022 draft, forwards Brad Lambert and Colby Barlow — who were first-round selections in 2022 and ’23 respectively — are also thought of very highly by the Jets organization, as is Nikita Chibrikov who has been excused from this week’s proceedings due to what was described by Kevin Cheveldayoff earlier in the week as “some kind of school commitments” back in Chibirkov’s home country of Russia.

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Lambert made his NHL debut in Winnipeg’s 82nd and final regular season game of 2023-24 and had an assist in the Jets 4-2 win over Vancouver. He has been talked about as being one of the contenders to replace the departed Sean Monahan at center on Winnipeg’s second line after scoring 21 goals and adding 34 assists for 55 points in 64 games for the Manitoba Moose to earn a spot on the AHL’s All Rookie Team.

Any conversations about what may or may not happen at main camp in the fall will be had at a more appropriate time, but what Lambert will admit is, that brief taste of NHL action in mid-April has certainly created a hunger for more. “To be able to get to see where I’m kinda at, get to see the atmosphere that it was, play in front of the crowd was an unbelievable feeling and drives me to want more of that.”

Jets Development Camp continues through Sunday at Hockey For All Centre with 9:30 a.m. sessions for the goalies, followed by 10 a.m. sessions for all the skaters. And all sessions are open to the public.

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