Colour me Impressed: Jets Camp 2013

Jets' forward Anthony Peluso bloodies the 36-million-dollar man, David Clarkson.

Jets’ forward Anthony Peluso bloodies the 36-million-dollar man, David Clarkson.

In spite of increased competition at this year’s training camp, Anthony Peluso may have won himself a job with the Winnipeg Jets. Just 24 years of age, he’s a legitimate NHL heavyweight at 6’3, 235 lbs. He also acquitted himself quite well against the Oilers on Tuesday, scoring the game winning goal, and looking surprisingly comfortable handling the puck – especially for a guy who typically makes more use of his fists than his stick. And if he does make the team, part of the credit will lie in his instinctive response to a near-tragic incident last season.

It was February 21, 2013, and Zach Redmond lay in a pool of his own blood. In a freak accident, then- teammate Antti Miettinen skated over Redmond’s leg, severing his femoral artery, and triggering a potentially fatal bleed-out. Who was first on the scene? Peluso. Without wasting a second, he grabbed a towel from the bench and applied pressure to the wound, helping to slow the cascade of blood from Redmond’s upper leg:

Credited as one of the key people who saved Redmond’s life, Peluso downplayed his role in subsequent interviews, which only further endeared him to fans. Furthermore, it cemented his reputation as a good teammate – a fact that was not lost on management.
Almost every team has someone like Peluso – an easy going guy who stands up for his teammates, doesn’t take himself too seriously, and seems to get along with everyone. And often, it’s the tough guy in the room. In Boston, it’s Shawn Thornton. In Phoenix, Paul Bisonette. Georges Laraque played the role in many cities over the years. And for a time in Toronto, it was Wade Belak. Peluso may never make a big impact on the ice, but as an extra forward, who can step in and out of the lineup as needed, and keep his teammates lose, there may not be a better choice.

In his heyday, Olli Jokinen was a big guy who skated well, and had a nose for the net. But last season, he looked a bit lost on the ice; he was a guy entering his mid-30’s, who was missing a step, and all too aware of it. But after being written off by pretty much everyone – myself included – I’m pleased to say that Olli looks to have turned back the clock, at least a little bit. At one point, Devin Setoguchi made a pass to his left, and a player burst through the middle of the ice in chase of it. I turned to my friend and said “who was that?” We looked at each other with blank faces, until I spotted the player going off the ice, and realized it was Jokinen. We each muttered “wow…he looks good,” but quietly, almost to ourselves, as if to temper expectations.

Despite Olli’s pitiful performance last season, there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about his play this year. Beyond the fact that he’s ashamed of how he played, he’s also in a contract year, and he won’t have anywhere to play in 2014 if he repeats last year’s folly. And if that wasn’t enough, there’s also that once-in-four-years, maybe-never-again event called the Olympics. Olli is a lock to make the Finnish squad if he plays well, but if he has another disappointing year, it would be easy to pass over a 35-year-old, run-down centre for a young stud like 18-year old Sasha Barkov. And if you don’t think that Olli knows that, then you don’t know Olli. Olli knows.

Based on everything I had read about Eric O’Dell – stats, scouting reports, etc – he sounded like a lesser version of Bryan Little. And after watching him play on Tuesday against Edmonton, that’s basically the impression I came away with. O’Dell is a centre iceman who shoots right handed, has good dangles, a good shot, and likes having the puck on his stick. He’s a little bigger than Little, but also not as quick. He made a nice play in the 2nd period, taking a short pass on his forehand in the Oilers zone, quickly pulling the puck to his backhand to shield it from a defender, and lifting a high shot, which found the goalie’s glove. Even though he didn’t score, the best thing about the play wasn’t the skill it took, but the quick decision he made not to shoot the puck. Most players would have fired it without a second thought, and 9/10 shots from that spot would have gone off the defender’s leg/stick. Instead, he had the composure to make a quick move in tight, and get a good chance on goal.

Barring injury, it looks like O’Dell versus Scheifele for that 2nd/3rd line centre role – a battle in which Scheifele has the inside track. But O’Dell is emerging as a nice call-up option if there’s an injury to one of the top-3 centres.

Note: If you missed the more extended write-up I did on O’Dell, including his heart surgery, click here

Anybody heard of this hot-shot new defenceman? He goes by the name of Jacob Trouba. If you’re reading this, chances are very good that you have. Because he played in college last year, it was tough to get direct reports about him for most of the season, but by the end of the year, Jets management were raving about his size, mobility, composure, and abrasiveness on the ice. The common fan caught a glimpse of Jake at last year’s World Juniors, where he was named the top defenceman – a rare feat for an 18-year-old, given that 19-year-olds generally dominate the tournament. And since the day he signed a contract with the Winnipeg Jets – foregoing his last three years of college eligibility – he was anointed by many as the next great Winnipeg Jets defenceman.

But many forget that Trouba is still 19 years old. He’s only been driving cars (legally) for about three years, and voting for one. He’s a teenager. And he’s being asked to play against men, who are bigger, stronger, faster, smarter, more skilled, more mature, and more experienced than anyone he’s ever played against.

There’s nothing wrong with having high expectations – both from an organizational standpoint, and from the common fan’s. The problem arises when the expectations also place a best-before date. Sure, in some cases – like Drew Doughty, and Erik Karlsson – sublime talent manifests itself early, and everything clicks. (Doughty was a Norris Trophy nominee and Olympic gold medalist at 20, and a Stanley Cup Champion at age 22. Karlsson won the Norris Trophy at age 22. ) But for most defencemen, it takes a while to put it all together. The great Nicklas Lidstrom – thought by many to be one of the top-5 best defencemen ever to play the game, didn’t even start his NHL career until he was 22. And although he was very good from the start, he didn’t win the Norris Trophy until he was 30! (He ended up winning 7 in all. Seven!) The same can be said for many, if not most others, including Duncan Keith (winner at age 27), Scott Niedermayer (age 30), and Zdeno Chara (age 32). So while we might reasonably expect Trouba to play well in his early 20’s, don’t expect him to fully blossom for 5-10 years.

Here are some other things I noticed in Tuesdays game:

  • I was impressed with Grant Clitsome. Granted, Edmonton didn’t bring their top guys, but Clitty looked very mobile out there, and he played very aggressively. He pinched a lot, but mostly at good times, and he really pressed the forward trying to leave the zone. He also likes coming into the slot with the puck to attack the net, something he started doing late last season, and led him to him finishing second among Jets defencemen in scoring. While many Jets fans don’t think he’s capable of playing a top-4 role, I think his game is showing signs of growth. Although he’s 28, he’s only played parts of 4 years in the NHL, and only 2 as an everyday player. He seems pretty sharp off the ice, and with his skill and mobility, all he really needs to do is become more reliable in his decision making and sure-handedness to become a fixture in the Jets top-4.
  • Carl Klingberg was a second round pick of the Thrashers in 2009. He’s always been a bigger guy who skates well, but it just doesn’t look like he has NHL-quality hands. He hasn’t put up good impressive numbers at any level of hockey, and it’s unlikely he ever becomes more than a spare part for an NHL team. He scored yesterday, off a nice pass from Eric Tangradi, but even the finish looked awkward, as he slid it – seemingly accidentally – through the five hole, when most guys would have shot for the (wide open) top half of the net. Unless he has a big year in the AHL this year, don’t expect him to earn much playing time with the Jets unless there are a lot of injuries.
  • Devin Setoguchi continues to impress – he’s quick and skilled, and has a very good shot. Beyond just his quickness, he always seems to have a lot of jump, very similar to Bryan Little. The only on-ice concern for me is the fact that Noel wants to pair him with Evander Kane, and, worse yet – Olli Jokinen. Each of those three like carrying and shooting the puck, but none of them is a puck distributor/play-maker. Hopefully Scheifele can break up the monotony find chemistry with at least one of Kane/Setoguchi.
  • Speaking of whom, what would a Jets update be without Mark Scheifele. Noel and Chevy must be getting sick of every reporter (and his dog) trying to find out which line Scheifele will play on this year. They jump through the hoops since they’re polite, but the question is somewhat inane, and the answer is line 2, or line 3 – not sure yet since half the guys in the middle of the lineup are new. (Literally half – Setoguchi, Frolik, and Halischuk – who is definitely in the conversation). As for his play Tuesday, he made a really nice play in the 2nd to cut around the D, and fire it just over the crossbar in almost one fluid motion. If that shot goes in, everybody’s talking about it for days.