The familiar faces of the Winnipeg Jets are back on the ice with Thursday marking the opening day of training camp.
The Jets are heading into camp this season widely viewed as Stanley Cup contenders across the league. With that in mind, new and returning players are starting off with a bang.
Day one of practice at the Bell MTS Iceplex was headlined by defenceman Brenden Dillon delivering a crushing hit on forward Kristian Vesalainen during a scrimmage.
“We love the way ‘Dilly’ plays,” smiled captain Blake Wheeler.
“We’re not trying to take anything anyway from how he plays the game. That’s what we expected when we got him so we’re glad he’s bringing it on day one.”
Dillon spent the last two seasons in Washington with the Capitals and the previous six in San Jose.
“We have skilled defencemen back there too that aren’t able to do that, so we need need to have that texture back there, if you will. We need to have a little grit,” said the team’s head coach Paul Maurice after Thursday’s session.
Another addition to Winnipeg’s blue line during the offseason put on display on the first day of camp was veteran D-man Nate Schmidt.
The eight-year NHL veteran spent last season with the Vancouver Canucks racking up five goals and 10 assists in 54 regular-season games.
“He fits in here in every way. He’s a guy who can get up and down the ice, move the puck and bring a little bit of flavour to the locker room,” said Wheeler.
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Pierre-Luc Dubois is not a new member of the Winnipeg Jets, but he’s admitted several times that his first season in Winnipeg wasn’t what fans should expect this year.
“Last year didn’t go as I wanted it to but I know what player I am, I know what kind of game I can play and I know what I can bring to this team,” said Dubois.
“To be able to go back this summer and watch games of what I’ve done in the past, being able to get back to my normal self physically and mentally felt good and I’m really looking forward to the season.”
His head coach seems to think Dubois has improved mightily over the offseason.
“This year you just watch him after one practice and he’s moving different, he’s covering more ice, he looks stronger. So we can move on, we think,” Maurice said.
The newly appointed No. 80 also praised that his entire team and coaching staff are all fully vaccinated heading into the season.
“Obviously coming back into Canada not having to quarantine and miss games is a big advantage so I think we’re all happy about that. Every team has different situations but we’re really happy about how we’ve approached it,” Dubois said.
The Jets will welcome the Ottawa Senators to Canada Life Centre on Sunday night for the first of six exhibition games.
Winnipeg’s regular season begins Wednesday, Oct. 13 in Anaheim against the Ducks.