PENCTICTON, B.C. — The Winnipeg Jets took a different approach with their prospect pool this fall.
Instead of taking all of the top guns to Penticton for the 2017 Young Stars Classic, another group of high-end prospects stayed behind in Winnipeg for what was essentially a mini-camp.
The reason behind that decision was two-fold.
First and foremost, the players left behind — guys like Kyle Connor, Jack Roslovic, Brendan Lemieux, Nelson Nogier and several others — were able to get some individual work in with the Jets coaching staff.
Plus, they’ll have a better idea of the type of things required to compete for an NHL job.
“We wanted to be able to have them get one-on-one with those guys and say look, here’s what I’m looking for you out of training camp and here’s what I need to see, here are some things you need to work on,” Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said on Monday.
The other piece of the puzzle was to allow the group of first-year pros like Jansen Harkins, Michael Spacek and Mason Appleton to have an opportunity to take on a larger leadership role at the prospect tournament, as they get ready for what will be their first full professional season.
“When you turn players pro into the AHL from junior or college, we wanted these young guys here to see what kind of a step it was going to be,” said Cheveldayoff. “When you get into the AHL environment, it’s going to be tough. There are going to be veteran players and sometimes those young players get lost in the shuffle right away because they don’t get that feel of what it’s going to take.
“This is a big jump. We want you to take charge and be the guys that don’t get lost in the shuffle.”
The Jets wrapped up tournament action Monday afternoon with a 4-1 win over the Calgary Flames in a game that saw Harkins score twice.
Defenceman Tucker Poolman has the best chance of any player that suited up for the Jets in the event to compete for an NHL roster spot.
But given that he’s coming off bilateral shoulder surgery, it’s likely Poolman will need some seasoning in the minors with the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League before he makes the jump.
But as Poolman prepares to attend his first NHL training camp, he’s eager to show he’s ready right now.
“It’s just a focus on the details and focus on what the coaches ask,” said Poolman, who signed a one-year, entry-level deal after completing his junior season at the University of North Dakota. “It’s a combination of both (nerves and excitement). As a kid growing up, you want to be in this situation, so it’s exciting. At the same time, you’ve put in so much work that you get a little nervous. It’s going to be fun.”
What’s working against Poolman to a certain degree is that the right side of the Jets defence corps is pretty stacked — with Jacob Trouba, Dustin Byfuglien and Tyler Myers all holding down spots.
Poolman is open to playing the left side and has done it before, so he’s just going to see how things shake down during the coming weeks.
“I played a year in college on the left, so I’m comfortable either way. I’ll do whatever (the Jets) ask,” said Poolman. “The biggest thing transitioning (to the pro game) is being a reliable defender and a guy that has good breakouts. To be a guy that coach can trust to put out there.”
Harkins, meanwhile, is ready for his first pro season and he’s taking a mindset that many young players have.
“I’m just trying to stick around as long as I can,” said Harkins, who was chosen by the Jets in the second round (47th overall) of the 2015 NHL Draft. “I think every year, I’ve gotten a little better at camp. That’s from getting a little more experience and a little more confidence.”