The first of seven pre-season games for the Winnipeg Jets begins tonight in Edmonton as they take on the Oilers (8 PM CST, TSN3) and while that seems like quite a few to have to go through, the reality is some players on this club will get one or two games early on to make an impression with Paul Maurice and the coaches in an effort to convince them to let them stay around the main NHL camp a little bit longer.
While players like Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little will treat these upcoming games as tune-ups, there is no such luxury for players like JC Lipon, Gabriel Bourque or Anthony Bitetto who are fringe NHL players competing with others for spots on the opening night roster.
So while some may greet the start of the pre-season with shrugs of indifference, and the final score really won’t matter, it’s the start of the pre-season – at least in one man’s humble opinion anyway – where the games matter a fair amount. Here are three things to look for during tonight’s game against the Oilers:
How far has Eric Comrie Progressed?
This is Comrie’s fifth training camp with the Winnipeg Jets and it’s a now-or-never type season for him. Each of his five NHL starts over the last three seasons have been disappointing and while his AHL numbers with the Manitoba Moose have been ok, he’s at risk of being passed on the team’s depth chart by his backup tonight Mikhail Berdin. It’s very unlikely Comrie makes the NHL out of camp this time around, but a good showing tonight goes a long way in helping convince coaches he should a majority of the work load for Manitoba not to mention other NHL clubs looking for backup goaltending options.
Playing behind the defense he’s working with tonight, he’s going to get plenty of work and chances to show he shouldn’t be written off by Jets observers quite yet.
Who is going to step up on defense?
Of the six defensemen dressed tonight, Nathan Beaulieu has the most NHL experience with 332 games played over the past seven NHL seasons. Neal Pionk has 101 games in two seasons with the New York Rangers.
Pionk is almost assuredly is a lock to make the Jets roster out of training camp and Beaulieu should be a safe bet as well, but the other five playing in tonight’s game should all be going into Edmonton ready to fight for the two open defensive spots the Jets have on the roster. Tucker Poolman and Anthony Bitetto should have an edge up on everyone else with their NHL experience, but Logan Stanley early on in camp has impressed people with his skating and a good game from him tonight where he displays an ability to defend well while making safe plays with the puck on zone exits should boost his cause.
Keep an eye on Andrei Chibisov
When 26 year old right winger Andrei Chibisov signed a one year, two-way deal with the Jets on June 1, it didn’t get a whole lot of fanfare outside of a few eyebrows raised from some observers, but at 6’4″ and 227 pounds, he has a chance to win a role as a physical, bottom six forward. He’s been a bit of a late bloomer over in Russia, having played in 220 KHL games for three different clubs over the last five seasons. He’s recorded 66 points (26 goals, 40 assists) and added three assists in 22 career playoff games.
It’s over the last two KHL seasons though he’s really started to come along as he found a bit of stability after a trade to Metallurg Magnitogorsk where he nine goals and 16 points in the team’s last 31 games played during the 2017-18 season. He followed that up with seven goals and 20 points in 50 games played in 2018-19. An injury cut short his season and ability to play in the playoffs.
By all accounts early on Chibisov has looked good in camp and his inability to speak English has been downplayed a bit. He’s still a long shot to make the NHL club at this point, but a good game tonight should help keep him around.