The Winnipeg Jets coaching staff loaded up the White Team with the top six forwards that are expected to make up the first two lines when the regular season begins next Thursday against Calgary. But it was a potential fourth-line unit who stole the show in a 3-2 “upset” victory for Team Blue in the Jets’ first training camp scrimmage on Wednesday at Bell MTS Iceplex.
Former Los Angeles King Trevor Lewis began his professional try-out on a high note by scoring the first goal of the scrimmage and then setting up linemate Jansen Harkins for the game-winner. Veteran Nate Thompson rounded out the trio, which produced several good scoring opportunities over and above the two that counted.
“It’s obviously a little bit different with the quarantine and being off the ice for a few days, but luckily I had a little bit of gym equipment that I had in the house that I could keep in shape a little bit,” said the soon-to-be 33-year-old native of Salt Lake City during a Zoom call with media. “I obviously felt pretty good out there today. Nice having some people I know out there too, who made me feel comfortable.”
The play of that line also impressed Head Coach Paul Maurice, who certainly noticed the two time Stanley Cup winner. “I’ll give him credit for a pretty good day,” said the Jets bench boss, who also added that Lewis was not on the ice for the first two days when the rest of the team was put through their paces.
“Those veteran guys know their game. He knows when he hits the ice in a scrimmage what’s he’s trying to accomplish in every shift. So it’s a really focused effort. I think his two linemates had a big piece of them looking well. All three of those guys out there had the same attitude. They didn’t look at that scrimmage as a place to warm their hands or get back into it. They just went out and did the job as hard as they could. That’s what they offer.”
Maurice also said Lewis looked a little quicker than last year and liked the way the veteran forward fit right in on his first day.
Jansen Harkins did skate those first two days, and also had a goal and an assist in picking up right where he left off during the second half of last season and in the Edmonton Bubble.
Maurice says the Cleveland-born winger who played junior in Prince George of the WHL has looked quite a bit different going into his fourth full professional season. “He just looks like a slightly bigger, slightly stronger, slightly faster version,” is how the veteran coach assessed the team’s second-round pick in the 2015 draft.
“Jansen has always worked really, really hard, and when he first came in, as all young players — they just can’t push as hard. Last year’s training camp was the first time where you started to notice him in the drills with your NHL team. But this year he looks like a full-grown, developed athlete. He’s driving through every single drill and about three minutes after practice is over he’s back upright and recovered. He’s just a powerful young man now.”
It’s way too early for Maurice to be confirming who will actually make up that fourth line, but he certainly didn’t discount Harkins’ chances of adding to his career total of 29 NHL games played this coming season. “I don’t have him as the 13th guy. I don’t have a 13th forward right now. He may well slide into our lineup and just not come out. He’s quite a bit different. He’s much further ahead with the coach.”
Nelson Nogier moved up from his defence position to play forward and scored the other goal for the Blues while CJ Suess and Kyle Connor supplied the offense for Team White.
The Jets may have a second scrimmage before camp ends next week, but Maurice indicated that would depend on having 18 healthy forwards. And he did mention center David Gustafson and winger Mathieu Perreault were getting close to ditching their noncontact jerseys.