WINNIPEG — Connor Hellebuyck figures he could handle somewhere in the neighbourhood of 40 to 45 starts in a condensed season.
Winnipeg Jets backup Laurent Brossoit didn’t want to limit his own projections, but fully understands there are playing-time challenges when it comes to being behind the Vezina Trophy winner on the depth chart.
Jets head coach Paul Maurice will be tasked with finding the sweet spot when it comes to ensuring his workhorse starter stays in a rhythm, but he also provides enough opportunities for the No. 2 guy to stay sharp enough to give his team a chance to win when his number is called.
With 56 games in 114 days, not only managing the workload but optimizing it could mean the difference between finishing in the top four in the Great White North Division or being on the outside looking in come playoff time.
“I’m surprised he dropped it to 45, to be honest with you,” said Maurice. “He’s a gamer, man. He’s competitive. I think it's going to be easier to balance in this situation than any other. The point is, in a condensed schedule, your No. 1 goalie can take the day off and totally feel like he's still in the rhythm the next time he gets back into the net. So I don't think that's going to be a challenge for us.”
Only Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens started more games than Hellebuyck (58 to 56) last season and it’s clear he’d like to remain near the top of the minutes-played category moving forward.
“That’s tough because there’s a lot that goes into that, just based on play and fatigue levels and stuff like that. We’ve briefly talked about it and I’m a guy that likes to play a lot, but who knows what’s going to happen,” said Hellebuyck. ”So it depends on how the season plays out, but I would like to be somewhere in the 40-45 range.”
Hellebuyck has been a Vezina Trophy finalist in two of the past three seasons, so he expects to continue playing at a high level.
“I think you could ask that to anyone on this team and they’re all probably going to answer the same way. They’re all going to say yes, I need to be the very best of myself in order for this team to win a Stanley Cup. So at the end of the day, that is how it works,” said Hellebuyck.
“Now the only one that matters in the Stanley Cup. I’d love to win another Vezina, that would be great, but it’s time. I’m in my prime, this team’s in its prime, it’s time to win a Stanley Cup and every day has to be building toward that. It doesn’t have to happen today but tomorrow’s got to be a better version of yourself than you were today.”
Hellebuyck isn’t concerned about the limited game action he’s participated in since March and has a clear focus on what he’s trying to get accomplished in the final week before the regular season gets going.
“That’s my biggest key for this training camp, to get my patience back to where it is near the end of the season. That is very crucial for me to be the best that I can be,” said Hellebuyck. “Not only that, I want to keep improving every day. I want to keep failing out there because you don’t learn from your success. You learn from your failure. So the more these guys score on me, the better I’m going to become.”
Brossoit signed a third consecutive one-year deal with the Jets during the off-season.
There’s a comfort level for both goalies and while Brossoit recognizes his place in the pecking order, his long-term goal remains the same.
At some point, he wants to be a No. 1 guy.
“There comes a lot of challenges when you're playing behind a Vezina winner,” said Brossoit. “But everything is (about) how you take a situation. There's a lot of positives in a situation like this. I can learn a lot from watching a Vezina winner day to day and seeing what it takes and seeing that I'm not that far off and that it's quite possible and that I get to compete on the ice with him in practice. I like that challenge, and if there's someone you want to end up being better than it's probably the guy that's considered to be the best right now.
“You can't predict the future. And the only thing I can really control is my preparation per day and per week and per season. And as the opportunities come, that's the name of the game in sports is sometimes you've got to wait for your opportunities and when those arise take advantage. Whether I did take advantage of those opportunities previously in my career or not, whenever they come I'd like to think I'm getting better and better and each opportunity that arises I'm going to be more and more prepared. And then once I get enough of them, I'd like to think that my time is yet to come.”
Welcome to Winnipeg
Veteran forward Trevor Lewis, who is in camp on a pro tryout offer, jumped out of his mandatory quarantine and right into the first scrimmage — and he didn’t need much time to make an impression.
Lewis scored the opening goal and set up the winner from Jansen Harkins as Team Blue defeated Team White 3-2.
Nelson Nogier, a defenceman who was playing forward, rounded out the scoring for Team Blue, while Kyle Connor and CJ Suess scored for Team White.
While it’s important not to overreact to one scrimmage, Lewis looked right at home on a unit with fellow veteran Nate Thompson and Harkins.
Should Lewis show enough to secure a contract, a spot on the fourth line — plus some time on the penalty kill — would be where he would fit in.
“It's been quite a long process for me. I had some interest from some teams, and this kind of came together right after Christmas and it was a pretty quick turnaround. It felt like a good opportunity. I’ve got to earn a spot but I've been working hard this off-season and had a lot of time off so my body is healed up and I feel great.”
Lewis knows what is expected of him and recognizes his strengths at this stage of his career.
“Skating has always been one of my strengths and I think that's a big part of the game nowadays. Obviously just PK ability and forecheck I've always prided myself on and kind of being a utility guy where I can play any position and kind of move up and down the line-up. Whatever they need me to do I will do. What keeps me going? I love the game and I love to compete and I'm excited to be here.”
Chosen 17th overall in 2006 by the Los Angeles Kings, Lewis admits his game has evolved over the years.
“When I got drafted, coming up I thought maybe I'd be a skill guy coming in,” said Lewis. “But I realized very quickly that it’s going to have to be a 200-foot game for me to make it. I had a lot of great coaches along the way and Darryl Sutter kind of gave me a role early on in my career and I kind of ran with it. It's just been one of those things ever since then.”
Although he hasn’t appeared in a real game since March, Lewis used the down time wisely and believes he’s fresh coming into the new season.
“Absolutely. You know, it's definitely probably the longest I've been off,” said Lewis, who was part of two Stanley Cup-winning teams with the Kings. “I stayed out in L.A. and lucky they were great to me there and let me skate and train there at the facility. I've been skating and working out for a long time and I definitely think it was a benefit for me to have that much time off and let the body fully recover. You know, everything feels great and I'm just excited to be here.”
Medals for prospects
Top defence prospect Ville Heinola is expected to be back in Winnipeg on Thursday after helping Finland capture a bronze medal at the 2021 World Junior Hockey Championship in Edmonton, but he must complete a seven-day quarantine before joining Jets training camp.
Heinola finished with four assists in seven games for Finland and was named to the media all-star team as he averaged just under 24 minutes per game.
“Ville looks a little quicker and he’s still got the same ice running through his veins when he’s sliding across that blue-line,” Maurice said earlier this week. “I understand why we draft people. Every one one of these guys that’s at that world tournament, you can see something specifically in their game. You can understand why we drafted and what we’re hoping develops in them.”
Finnish centre Henrik Nikkanen, chosen in the fourth round of the 2019 NHL Draft by the Jets, also showed well during the event, finishing with two goals and an assist in seven games while averaging 14:24 of ice time.
Nikkanen skates well for a big man (six-foot-four) and will now head back to his club team in Finland.
Top forward prospect Cole Perfetti settled for a silver medal with Team Canada after a heartbreaking loss to the United States on Tuesday.
Since he’s been with Team Canada in Alberta since the middle of November, the Jets decided to give Perfetti a few days back home in Ontario before he makes his way to Winnipeg.
Perfetti finished the tournament with two goals and six points in seven games.
Since he’s going to miss all of camp, Perfetti is a good bet to start the season on the taxi squad.
Since the start of the OHL campaign has been postponed indefinitely, Perfetti would be eligible to play games in the American Hockey League before the Saginaw Spirit season gets going.
Defenceman Tucker Poolman and forwards Mathieu Perreault and David Gustafsson were held out of Wednesday’s scrimmage due to minor injuries, though each of them seems to be making progress.
Poolman shed the non-contact jersey and might be ready to join the main group on Thursday.
Forward Marko Dano has cleared waivers but remains unfit to practice.