WINNIPEG – The Winnipeg Jets held their final full practice ahead of Thursday’s home opener against the Carolina Hurricanes and players are chomping at the bit to play in games that actually mean something.
“Just itching now,” said captain Blake Wheeler. “Camp kinda just wears you out a little bit. You want to start playing against other people and start getting into a little bit of a rhythm here.”
“You can feel that NHL tension coming back into your day,” said head coach Paul Maurice. “It’s a good thing. You miss it over the course of the summer.”
“It’s getting more and more exciting,” said first round draft pick Patrik Laine. “And a little nervous too, but now I’m feeling pretty good.”
Maybe it’s just the home cooking as Laine’s family made the trip all the way from Finland to witness his first NHL regular season game.
“My father and my sister and my girlfriend came yesterday,” Laine said. “So it’s good to have them around and to see the first NHL game.”
Laine is one of two players who are expected to make their NHL debut on Thursday as Kyle Connor will also suit up in an NHL game for the first time.
“Feel free to win 10 Stanley Cups and every award the NHL will ever give you, but you only get one first game,” said Maurice.
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The Jets have been built for speed and skill, but there will be some bumps in the road with four rookies in the lineup.
“There’s a lot of great young hockey players in this locker room,” said Shawn Matthias. “It’s going to be a learning curve for them. It’s going to be some adjustments that they make, but watching these guys every day in practice and the pre-season, you see how high their talent is.”
“Should expect a team that’s working hard every night,” said Wheeler. “As long as we work and we battle and give ourselves an opportunity to win every night. I think that’s the pass or fail on our end.”
“I’m not going to discount us having the best season we’ve had in two and half years here in my time here.” Maurice said. “That’s my expectation is that we get better and better as we go. If I’m not going to put a ceiling on that, I’m absolutely not resigned to this being a painful year where it’s all growing pains.”
After missing the second half of training camp both Matthias and Drew Stafford will be available to play in the home opener.
Defenceman Josh Morrissey changed numbers, going from 36 to Zach Bogosian’s old number 44. While rookie Kyle Connor has opted to play with an 81 on his back after skating with 41 in the pre-season. Connor flipped his numbers after wearing 18 at the University of Michigan, which is presently worn by Bryan Little.
WATCH: Patrik Laine Interview