It would have been easy for Dylan Samberg to simply shake his head in bewilderment and wonder what in the world was going on.
If suffering a high-ankle sprain during a freak play at the end of practice on the first day of training camp wasn’t bad enough, the Winnipeg Jets defence prospect had to cope with a second unlikely injury — to his hand. It knocked him out of the lineup after making a positive impact in his first taste of NHL action.
Instead of feeling sorry for himself or his lot in life, Samberg dug in and focused on his recovery, putting in the necessary work to ensure he could return to action as quickly as possible.
“It’s one of those things. The first one on the first day of training camp, that was tough,” Samberg said in a recent interview.
“You go through your whole summer, working hard for that moment, and then it gets cut short on the first day. I have a good support group with my family. Then the staff here was behind me, saying that I need to stay positive. The first couple days after the injury were tough.
“I talked with a bunch of teammates and my family, they said ‘it is what it is, nothing you can do about it now, and make sure you work extra hard to get back.'”
That extra hard work included a trip back to the minors with the Manitoba Moose — a stretch that lasted 16 games. Samberg was determined to make his next chance count.
With eight games to go in the Jets’ regular season, beginning with Friday’s game against the Florida Panthers, it’s clear that Samberg is well on his way to making that happen.
With just three NHL games in this stretch and nine overall, Samberg is showing signs he here to stay and he’s here to make a positive impact.
There’s a certain comfort in his game, a style of play that he, and the Jets’ coaching staff, will be able to count on when his number is called.
Samberg has brought some steadiness and stability to the Jets’ defence by playing a calm, composed, yet highly effective game. It includes clean, efficient exits and precise passes to go with a physical edge that is sure to serve him well.
“My game is just to keep it simple, play well, play sound defensive, get the puck moving forward, get it to the forwards,” said Samberg, who was chosen in the second round, 43rd overall, by the Jets in the 2017 NHL Draft. “
“If I can jump in on the offence, I jump in. I feel as I play more games, that part of my game will come along.”
Samberg showed off some of that offence in the last game against the Montreal Canadiens, chipping in a pair of helpers for four assists in nine NHL outings.
He’s also shown mobility, getting back to pucks and finding his teammates in open areas, whether those plays are in close proximity or require a crisp stretch pass several zones.
Jets interim head coach Dave Lowry has been impressed by Samberg. Most of his ice time (13:48 per game so far) has come at even strength. Becoming a regular on the penalty kill is the next step for him.
During a season when the Jets have not lived up to lofty expectations, some critical personnel decisions will be coming in the offseason. The emergence of players like Samberg, Ville Heinola, Johnny Kovacevic and Declan Chisholm (all of whom made their respective NHL debuts this season) means the Jets back-end could be on the verge of some significant change.
What that will look like remains to be seen, but it’s sure to be a talking point over the coming weeks and months.
For the time being, Samberg is going to continue to leave an impression. Once this audition comes to a close, he’ll shift his focus back to trying to capture a Calder Cup championship with the Moose in the American Hockey League.
A two-time NCAA Frozen Four champion with the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs, Samberg would love to add some additional hardware to his trophy case after some of the trials and tribulations he’s gone through during his first two professional seasons.
“I’ve had a long year — a couple injuries — and that’s the way it goes sometimes,” said Samberg.
“Everyone is going to go through it at some point in their career. I unfortunately had to go through it this year, especially with COVID around, it was another long year with that. All you have to do is keep plugging along, keep playing your game, and hoping to get that opportunity.”
Ken Wiebe covers the Winnipeg Jets for Sportsnet.ca and is a regular contributor to CJOB.