The 24 players who will represent the Winnipeg Jets at the upcoming Young Stars Classic Tournament in Penticton, B.C., held their first, and only practice at Bell MTS Iceplex on Wednesday afternoon prior to heading to BC on Thursday.
Manitoba Moose head coach Mark Morrison, who will run the Winnipeg bench during the tournament, felt the workout was a solid first step forward.
“A lot of the guys don’t know each other but I thought there was a lot of energy, they’re all raring to go,” was Morrison’s response to how he assessed what was accomplished during the hour-long skate. “They haven’t played games in a long time, some of them longer than others, but I thought there was lots of energy and lots of pace to practice.”
A couple of players who will be seeing their first game action in roughly seven months will be forwards and former first-round draft picks Cole Perfetti and Chaz Lucius. Perfetti suffered a season ending upper body injury in a home game versus Seattle on Feb. 17. Just two days later, Lucius was pulled from the warmup for the University of Minnesota game at Penn State and did not dress for the remainder of his freshman season with the Golden Gophers because of an ankle injury that eventually required surgery.
Perfetti, who played most of his 18 NHL games with the Jets at right wing, on a line with Pierre-Luc Dubois and Kyle Connor, skated between Daniel Torgersson and Greg Meireles during the three-on-three drills on Wednesday.
“Once you’re in the offensive zone you’re playing hockey, you’re doing your thing,” explained Perfetti about the transition from the wall to the middle of the ice. “I’ve played wing and centre my whole life so it’s nice to just keep getting touches, getting repetitions at all the positions. It’s going to be nice to play centre the next couple of days. We’ll see how it goes in a game. I’m looking forward to it.”
Lucius skated on a line with 2022 Jets first-round pick Brad Lambert and Wyatt Bongiovanni, who joined the Moose late last spring for a three-game audition after completing his collegiate career at Quinnipiac University.
The highly-skilled Minnesotan signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Jets on April 27, just a few days before his 19th birthday. Like Perfetti, he is also more than ready to get the ball rolling on his 2022-23 season.
“I think with the ankle it was a little disappointing. Obviously with the University of Minnesota we made it to the Frozen Four last year and that was really special and I was really happy to be a part of that,” said Lucius who scored nine goals and added 10 assists for 19 points in 24 games during his freshman season.
“Shift by shift, taking it one game at a time is a big thing. Getting used to playing at a higher speed again, getting used to playing in the game so to speak.”
By contrast, Lambert was a member of Team Finland during last month’s completion of the World Junior Tournament in Finland. The 30th overall pick of the 2022 NHL entry draft says it didn’t take long to “get in the groove” during Wednesday’s workout.
“I felt pretty good as soon as I stepped on the ice. Obviously I hadn’t been on the ice for a week, but I’m in pretty good shape and got the skating test out of the way too,” said the Finnish-born right winger who doesn’t turn 19 until early December.
Lambert was a healthy scratch for Finland’s semifinal win over Sweden, as well as the Gold Medal loss to Canada in Edmonton last month, but he doesn’t see the Young Stars Classic as an opportunity for redemption.
“I’m just going to go play my game. I had a different kind of opportunity this Christmas at the World Junior and I was playing a bit of a different role this summer. I think I played pretty well in the role I played, obviously wasn’t too offensive a role. But I got pucks deep and grinded it out like my coach wanted me too.” said Lambert whose options for the coming season including making the Jets, developing with the AHL Manitoba Moose, playing junior in Seattle or returning to Finland.
“Now I’m hopefully playing a more offensive role here. Get things going and I can’t wait.”
The spotlight in Penticton will naturally be on all three Winnipeg first rounders, but perhaps moreso on Perfetti after what he achieved last season. And the five-foot-11-inch, 177-pound Whitby, Ont., native is comfortable with being one of the “marquee names” in the tournament for what will be his first-ever visit to Penticton.
“There’s a handful of guys who have played NHL games there. To be in that group, there’s obviously going to be playing leadership roles, play(ing) big roles on the team. People are going to want to watch the guys in the NHL so hopefully it’s exciting,” said Perfetti.
“Hopefully I can just go out there, play hard and have fun.”
Morrison was a little more direct in sharing his wish list for the tournament. “We talked this morning with the group and the biggest thing we want to do is compete. Not just compete, but we want to be the hardest-competing team there.”
The Jets prospects will fly to Penticton on Thursday and get in one more practice before their tournament opener versus Edmonton on Friday at 6 p.m. CT. Winnipeg will also play Vancouver on Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. CT before meeting Calgary in a 1 p.m. start on Monday.
The games will be streamed on the JetsTV YouTube Channel.