Welcome to hockey season, well almost. Welcome to NHL training camp, at least.
It was a busy day down at MTS Iceplex as a big group of Winnipeg Jets returnees, newcomers and hopefuls hit the ice for the final informal session before reporting to training camp for medicals and physicals on Wednesday.
The first on-ice session won’t be held until Thursday, but head coach Claude Noel will meet the media on Wednesday morning and that should be entertaining.
You can be sure that Noel is eager to start his first “normal” training camp since the franchise relocated from Atlanta.
Not to make excuses for him, but the first summer was pretty rushed and there was plenty of time required for evaluation and to try and get to know the personalities that first camp and last year was condensed by the lockout.
There’s nothing new for the players to deal with this time around and Noel has eight pre-season games to find out where the shiny new pieces brought in by GM Kevin Cheveldayoff might fit in.
Although there’s been no official word — and one won’t necessarily be forthcoming from Noel tomorrow either — most folks assume that it will be Devin Setoguchi starting on RW with Evander Kane while Michael Frolik could start with Olli Jokinen on a quasi checking line that could also produce some important offence.
Time will tell and I’ll delve more into that subject tomorrow (players aren’t available until Thursday, but I banked a few comments from Kane, Setoguchi and even Andrew Ladd today).
Managed to grab some video from interviews today and my list of stories online at www.winnipegsun.com and in Wednesday’s print edition include:
1) My five burning questions column deals with a few items the Jets will look to answer during the coming weeks (let me know what your biggest concern going into the season is when you have a chance)
2) Had a nice chat with Ondrej Pavelec as well and talked to him about his expectations about his upcoming season and the oft-argued questions about his less-than-spectacular statistics (Kane left no doubt about where he stands on this issue).
3) Got my first look at Dustin Byfuglien since he got into town and there’s no doubt he looks like he worked out hard this past summer. Having said that, when I went down to see him in Minnesota last September, he looked pretty fit as well. Don’t get me wrong, a bigger commitment to fitness can’t be viewed as a bad thing for Byfuglien. He’ll still need to pay attention to his shift length (that’s an issue that’s got him in trouble in the past) and continue to work on the risk/reward element of his game in order to take it to the next level. Having said that, Byfuglien looks motivated to have a big season — whether there is extra motivation to make the U.S. Olympic team or not, the Jets should reap the rewards. True to form, Byfuglien had a great time on the ice this afternoon (he was playing centre during a scrimmage but that was just for fun, conspiracy theorists) and wasn’t afraid to offer a shout-out to Pavelec while he was being interviewed, but Byfuglien declined to speak to reporters who were hoping to get a word from him. Here’s hoping he does offer up some comments on Thursday. Since Byfuglien snuck out the back way, Ladd was asked a few questions about the towering blue-liner and naturally offered support but also made mention of an important conversation the two had. Those comments turned into a sidebar on Byfuglien.
4) There was one final development that led to a final short story. Steinbach product Ian White was on the ice with the Jets this morning and while he hadn’t accepted an invitation from the club yet at that point, a source in the afternoon confirmed to me that indeed the defenceman with the big shot was among those who would be at training camp. White’s inclusion makes sense, as he brings 503 NHL games of experience to the table and while he’s coming off a tough campaign with the Detroit Red Wings that included an early leg injury and later, a string of healthy scratches, he’s not that far removed from being a productive player. If nothing else, White should push some fellow right-handed shots (like Paul Postma, Zach Redmond and Jacob Trouba) to play better and earn their spot on the blue-line. White, 29, is going to have to play well to earn an actual deal and secure a roster spot but it’s a good chance for him to show he still has something left to offer. White’s always been known for having a good shot and getting it through and he’s worked hard over the years to improve his play in his own end.
Speaking of D-men, restricted free agent Arturs Kulda has returned to the KHL (his North American agent Rick Curran told me this afternoon), so the Jets retain his rights.
Finally, some of you have been asking about UFA Ron Hainsey (who remains unsigned) so I reached out to his agent, Matt Keator, who said “I have had lots of conversations, we are waiting for the right situation to present itself.”
I’m surprised Hainsey hasn’t found a new home yet and I still believe he’ll be on an NHL roster before the regular season begins. My front-runner for his services remains the New York Islanders. Another possibility mentioned has been the Carolina Hurricanes (who announced Wednesday that Joni Pitkanen is done for the season with a heel injury).
That’s going to do it for now, but I’ll check back in Wednesday after Noel steps to the podium.