There are lots of reasons to be excited about the future of the Winnipeg Jets and a big part of that excitement is the influx of youth that is starting to crack the team’s everyday lineup. Sometimes young players go through growing pains, and that likely will happen for these young Jets who are only four games into the 2015-16 NHL season, but with a little help from some veteran guidance they could turn into a dangerous opponent in the Western Conference.
This season with the addition of skilled forwards Nikolaj Ehlers (19 years-old) and Nicolas Petan (20) in addition to Andrew Copp (21), Mark Scheifele and Adam Lowry (both 22) and Jacob Trouba (21) on the back-end the Jets have gotten considerably younger as they attempt to build upon last year’s playoff appearance — their first since landing in Winnipeg from Atlanta. When asked about the emergence of Ehlers and Petan specifically, captain Andrew Ladd gave the kids a glowing review. “They’ve been great so far. Obviously they are some really talented kids that can bring some offensive flair to our game,” Ladd explained. “They don’t overlook the full 200-feet game, that they need to play too. Both, all three of them (including Copp), play a strong 200-foot game and realize how we need to play as a group to be successful. When they get their chances, they can let it fly.”
Despite making the playoffs the excitement was tempered, at least in the locker room, after they were quickly ousted by the Anaheim Ducks in a four-game sweep. “It was obviously a tough series for us; Anaheim had a great chance to win the Cup last year and I think we held our own with them for the most part during the games,” Trouba told The Hockey Writers. “We gained some experience that we can learn from (and build upon) going forward, so hopefully we take that next step going forward.” The Jets have players in their room that they can lean on for pointers on how to get back to that position again, and the first one they should turn to is their captain who also happens to be a two-time Stanley Cup champion (2006, 2010).
On road trips, like the one Winnipeg just completed to start the season (3-1-0) are good opportunities for the youngsters to tap into Ladd’s experiences and wisdom. “Those are kind of the conversations that come up when you are out for dinner on the road (like now), or doing these things throughout the season,” he said. “It’s one of the pluses of starting on the road, that you can get together as a group and get away from the hometown and any or all of the distractions there (and just focus on hockey).”
When THW spoke with the Jets captain they had just completed wins on consecutive nights in Boston and then in New Jersey; although he was pleased with the four points collected, his enthusiasm was curbed with more work to be done over the final two games of the road trip against two playoff teams — the New York Islanders (4-2 loss) and New York Rangers (4-1 win). “It’s a good start, but it’s also only two games, too. The tough part throughout an NHL season is staying even-keeled and realizing how (much) you have to come and prepare each and every day,” said the veteran who is now in his 11th NHL season. “I think we will try to bottle up a lot of the things we did tonight — how we started, we stuck with it (the game plan) and played a pretty tight game throughout. That’s kind of the blueprint of what we want to do (on a nightly basis).”
With all the excitement around the Jets as they return home for a six-game home stand that could propel them to a great start, there may be a chance for a letdown, but not according to Ladd. “Honestly, not with our group,” he proclaimed. “That’s one of the things we did extremely well last year — we were ready to play, we worked our tails off each and every day. I don’t think anyone in here was concerned with us taking a step back (this year). We have a lot of guys in here that drive at it each day and we have our foot on the gas.”
PING and IN; Nikolaj Ehlers rings one off the post to beat Henrik Lundqvist for his first NHL goal:
A lot may be expected of the young Jets this season, rightfully so or not, and how they are able to adapt to the NHL game will go a very long way in determining if they end up grounded this spring or if they are ready to fly. One thing is for sure, so far Ehlers, Petan and co. have been exciting to watch thus far and will likely bring the Winnipeg crowd to their feet many times over the next decade or so.
Dan Rice can be reached via Twitter: @DRdiabloTHW or via Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dan Rice is in his 9th year of reporting for THW & has covered NJ Devils home games for 15+ years at various websites. He began his journey working for legendary broadcaster/writer Stan Fischler from 2002-04 & completed an internship at the ECHL; he also has been writing features for the NWHL (nwhl.zone) website since 2016.