Winnipeg Jets Early Training Camp Takeaways

The Winnipeg Jets have officially begun training camp and have had three days of practices ahead of their first preseason game on Sunday. Veterans are getting their legs back, certain players on the “bubble” are thriving, and the mood surrounding the team seems positive despite locker-room dynamic concerns.

Related: 3 Areas the Jets Need to Address to Get Back to the Postseason

It’s difficult to read into any lineup decisions so far since it is Rick Bowness’ first time seeing most of these players play. He is remaining non-committal with line combinations, and younger players still have plenty of time to make an impact. Having said that, some specific players are taking this opportunity to impress the coaching staff. This article will cover who those players are, and what Bowness seems to be preaching thus far.

Bowness is Going to Bring a Different System to the Table

From the second they hired him, we knew that he was going to put his fingerprints all over the teams’ systems. Teaching players a brand new system isn’t easy, especially ones that have been running the same one for five years straight, but Bowness seems to be on the right track. He spent the first three days of training camp implementing changes to the way the team plays in all three zones. On Saturday, the focus shifted to how the defence will play in the neutral zone.

Bowness ran a drill where one team would attempt to break into the zone. What was evident in it was how aggressive the defence was being asked to play at the blue line. Forcing the opposition to dump the puck in is something that the new head coach wants to see, and he was extremely vocal in getting that message across on the ice.

Rick Bowness Winnipeg Jets Head Coach
Rick Bowness, Winnipeg Jets Head Coach (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

Another thing that has caught fans off guard has been how loud Bowness is during the drills. He is always banging his stick on the ice and yelling in hopes of getting more effort out of his team. So much so that he lost his voice on Saturday, which resulted in him whacking his stick on the ice that much more.

Bowness knows that this team is capable of much more than the 39-32-11 record that they held last season, and he is trying his hardest to squeeze out the best of every single player at training camp.

Lambert, Zhilkin & Lucius Are Making an Impression

One of the biggest storylines across all training camps is how the young players are looking while going up against proven NHL players. There are many young players that the Jets invited to training camp, and all of them are impressing in their own way. Chaz Lucius, a first-round pick of the 2021 NHL Draft, made many plays with his hands and shot in the scrimmages that showed potential for another season of development.

Danny Zhilkin was the Jets’ third-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft and has been one of the most impressive rookies so far. He’s proving that his speed is no joke, as he’s broken off multiple breakaways in drills just by simply skating around the defence. If he’s able to take that NHL-level speed and develop his shot and hands going into next season, he projects to have a bright future as a Jet.

Danny Zhilkin, Guelph Storm
Danny Zhilkin, Guelph Storm (Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images)

Brad Lambert is only 18 years old and is another young player that has impressed so far. Due to an injury, he was only able to participate in the Thursday skate, but he showed plenty of flashes against his teammates that would tell anybody watching that he has the talent to make it in the NHL. Does he have a chance to make the team? Maybe not, but a strong training camp from him is a huge step forward in his development and may place him on the Manitoba Moose to start the 2022-23 season.

Lambert is one of the most polarizing prospects the Jets have ever had. His talent was so evident, that he was projected to be a top-five pick before this past year of development. Because of a rough season in Finland, he saw his draft stock drop dramatically and the Jets were able to select him with the 30th overall pick. His development is going to be a big storyline for years to come and a major asset to the franchise’s prospect pool.

The Defensive Battle Has No Clear Winners…Yet

A lot has been made of the defensive battle going into training camp, but after three days there seems to be no clear winner. Dylan Samberg had an impressive day defending the rush on Saturday, and Ville Heinola showed plenty of offensive promise on Friday. Both players are paired with veterans Brenden Dillon and Nate Schmidt, which will help the coaching staff get an extended look at a potential NHL role for the young players.

Given that he is older and more experienced, Samberg is the bigger and more consistent option while Heinola arguably has more potential as a future top-four defenceman. It is risky to read too much into training camp lines, but Logan Stanley has been paired with Leon Gawanke all three days of camp, and Stanley has especially struggled during the scrimmages. It is early, but it seems as though Stanley is falling behind in the race for a full-time spot.

Dylan Samberg Winnipeg Jets
Dylan Samberg, Winnipeg Jets (Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)

Over the next two weeks of games and practices, it will be interesting to see if one of the defenders runs away from the competition. Only one of them will be asked to play meaningful NHL minutes, but as of right now, we have no clue who that will be.

The truth is, it is still very early. Players like Stanley who are struggling now, could turn it around and play themselves into a roster spot over the next two weeks. The most important things for the team are learning the new systems, getting back into hockey shape, and getting their young prospects into some much-needed NHL-level scrimmages. If they can do that, they are well on their way to having a successful training camp and preseason.

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