For the most part, the main group at the Winnipeg Jets training camp has remained constant, but there has been the odd coming and going.
Sunday saw a bit of shuffling take place on the back end when highly rated prospect Dylan Samberg was brought up to skate with the regulars while Sami Niku and Luca Sbisa joined the 7:30 a.m. breakfast club for the first time.
As always, not a whole lot should be read into that. But head coach Paul Maurice said there was a reward component that factored into that decision with respect to Samberg.
“We had a lot of faith coming into the year. We think this young man is going to be a really strong player for us,” Maurice said.
“And then he had a really, really strong week last week, so how you perform matters. And it was as simple as I wanted to see him with bigger men. We’re doing heavier D zone and forecheck drills and you can’t tell with young defencemen how they’ll react to that.
“It wasn’t one of those training camp gifts where you get a young guy coming in and he gets to skate with the big boys because of where he was drafted. It was earned.”
Another facet of the hockey club getting some serious attention has been the ongoing development of a bonafide fourth line.
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Mason Appleton spent some time there on day one, but moved up to the third line with Andrew Copp and Adam Lowry when Mathieu Perreault suffered a minor injury. Jansen Harkins looked real good in last Wednesday’s scrimmage, but also got nicked up and has been unfit to practice since. So Perreault has since returned and has also been skating in that spot.
The constants have been centre Nate Thompson and former LA King Trevor Lewis on the right side. Lewis, who turned 34 on Saturday, is still unsigned and there has been no indication if his status will change ahead of Thursday’s season opener against Calgary.
But Thompson has been suitably impressed with the makeup of the forwards who all figure to take on bottom six roles for the Jets.
“I really didn’t know how fast Apps or Harks were. They can really move,” said Thompson, who is 36 years old. “You look at our bottom six per se and I really like our group.
“We have a lot of guys that are versatile that play different roles. It could be a really formidable bottom six that can really contribute.”—
Because Lewis’ status is still unclear, and because there are still some minor injury issues to deal with, Maurice said the makeup of the fourth line and who will fit where is yet to be decided. But what is crystal clear in the coach’s mind is the role that unit has to play.
“Your fourth line has a huge impact on your hockey team — and it’s not just the minutes that they play,” said Maurice following Sunday’s workout.
“You get some veteran guys there that know their job. They do all of the hard things in a game. They’re going to block every shot, they’re gonna kill penalties. Because of that, they get this special little area of respect by the rest of the players on the team. They can really impact the culture of the group.”
Not to keep banging the same drum about the schedule, but in 2021 it will be more important than perhaps it has been in the nine previous seasons for the 2.0 version of the Jets to have a fourth line that can play more than four to five minutes a game.
Thompson wasn’t sure what the exact “sweet spot” is when it comes to ice time. But the well-travelled journeyman knows a thing or two about what an ideal game night scenario is for the guys at the low end of the minutes-played pole.
“Obviously, being a fourth-line guy or any guy that is going to be bottom six is going to want to play over 12 minutes. The sweet spot is a matter of, you get in a game and the coach is able to roll four lines and there’s not a lot of special teams, and you’re in the game early,” was how Thompson responded to the question of what is the ideal formula for role players.
“It’s the game of hockey. Things happen. As a bottom-six guy, you have to make sure you’re ready and make your shifts count.”
Maurice said the plan is to have one more scrimmage at Bell MTS Place, if there were enough available forwards. And from there, the team will split into the main group and taxi squad working out downtown while the remainder of the players who will likely play for the Moose will skate at Bell MTS Iceplex.
680 CJOB’s broadcast Thursday Night gets underway at 5 p.m. with the pregame show, followed by the play by play with Paul Edmonds and Jamie Thomas at 7 p.m.
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