Just over a week remains until the first exhibition game for the Winnipeg Jets.
Now nine days into training camp, Jets players are feeling pretty confident about how their game has progressed so far.
“Everybody’s healthy,” Jets forward Mathieu Perreault said. “We feel good about our lineup. We’ve had some great practices here.”
On Sunday, Jets players will enter the bubble in the hub city of Edmonton. And after four months away, it has all the excitement of a brand new season.
“There’s a different feeling to it,” Perreault said. “It’s going to be a new experience for everybody, so it’s not like you can get into these games prepared knowing what’s gonna happen. This is brand new.
“So I’m assuming it’s going to feel like a first game of the year. Usually you have that excitement.”
Speedy forward Kyle Connor earned every bit of his over $7 million salary in the first year of his new contract. He had career bests with 38 goals and 35 assists before the season was put on hold.
The teams’ scoring leader will be leaned on heavily to produce despite being just 23-years-old.
“He’s developed into a guy I don’t coach anymore,” head coach Paul Maurice said. “The experience that he gets every year goes into his memory bank, and his decisions get faster, and his confidence grows.
“And this guy — I think he’s going to be thought of, he’s got a long term deal so I don’t mind saying, I think he’s going to be a top 10 player in the National Hockey League.”
But for the Jets to make a long playoff run, they’ll need more than just their top line, they’ll need all four forward lines contributing. That includes Nikolaj Ehlers who was shut out the last two playoffs, now 21 straight post-season games without a goal.
“Obviously I like to score, but I like to think that I’m doing whatever I can, and as much as I can to help this team win,” Ehlers said. “And if that means not scoring, then that’s it. But I know that I feel confident in myself, and I know the goals will come.”
“All I got to do is – I got to get Nikky to think like a shooter, skate like a shooter, and play that style of game,” said Maurice. “He’s capable now of scoring in the playoffs.”
While players are now back in their hockey groove after more than a week of camp, some won’t be getting used to the early-morning COVID-19 testing anytime soon.
“Routine?” Perreault asked. “Yeah, maybe a little bit. But it’s still not fun to do. We did it this morning, and it never gets easier. But it is what it is.”
Testing aside, the Jets are eager to make up for last season’s early playoff exit.
“We came back for a reason,” Ehlers said. “Not just to play games, and then go back home. We came here to win.”
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