Jets Mailbag: Poolman’s recovery, expansion draft plans, Heinola’s potential

Pierre-Luc Dubois speaks to the media following Winnipeg Jets practice and feels good to be in new surroundings with his new line mates and excited to get back into the swing of things with talented group he's been watching.

WINNIPEG — Tucker Poolman isn’t sure how he got it, he’s just thankful to be on the road to recovery and that none of his teammates got it from him.

As the NHL continues to work its way through the pandemic, the Winnipeg Jets defenceman shared his personal experience with members of the media via Zoom on Sunday afternoon.

The day after the Jets earned a 4-3 overtime victory over the Calgary Flames in the season opener, Poolman went to the rink for a COVID test.

As he relaxed at home on a day off, he received a phone call he was not expecting.

“About three or four in the afternoon I was sitting on the couch at home and got a call that I tested positive,” said Poolman. “Kind of surprised. I was feeling good. I was asymptomatic for about a day and then started developing some symptoms after that.

“I don’t really know (how he got the virus). It just showed up one day. I was super surprised because there were really no red flags or precautionary tales. It just kind of popped up, so a little bit scary to think about, from that manner.”

This is something Poolman had not gone through before, so there was some frustration to deal with during the process, especially since he’d been following the protocols closely.

“I’ve gone through a lot of emotions over the last few weeks between myself getting it and then (my fiancé) getting it at home,” said Poolman. “Like everyone, this whole year, a lot of curveballs thrown at you. You know, it is what it is. Glad to be back with the team. I’m glad no one else got it. That was a big plus for me. I was waiting around for a week just nervous sitting at home. It was great no one else got it.”

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What type of symptoms did Poolman experience?

“Fairly mild from talking with different people and reading the papers this whole year,” said Poolman. “I had some body aches for four days or so, fever one of the days and kind of some fatigue after that. But pretty minor compared to what you read in the papers.”

Poolman was unable to do any physical workouts for two weeks and that wasn’t easy after spending months preparing for the NHL season.

“It was 14 days of no activity really and staying at home. Came back and it feels like another training camp almost,” said Poolman. “Every day feels better on the ice cardio-wise and the hands. It’s just a process when you sit out that long sometimes. Every day feels better. I’m not sure of a timeline for getting back in there. It’s just about getting back and feeling healthy right now.”

“I mean, it’s just trying to do proper nutrition, rest. All those little things you normally do I think become a little bit more important. You’ve got to kind of start easing into it. You can’t really go full-boat; it wasn’t like I was biking or anything. It kind of set me back as far as physically getting in there and trying to be your best. The expectations changed from like an ankle sprain or a different type of injury where you can still bike or do some kind of lifting. It was just kind of starting on the bottom floor, if that makes any sense.”

Jets head coach Paul Maurice doesn’t have a timeline for Poolman’s return, though him returning to the ice with his teammates brings him another step closer to playing for the first time since Jan. 14.

“Poolman’s close. It’ll be conditioning now,” said Maurice.


On to your questions:

Why is Ehlers not on PP1? — Michael Duggan

There is some variation of this question each and every month and that’s understandable.

The short answer is that Maurice is hoping to be able to roll out two units he has confidence in — and adding Pierre-Luc Dubois to that second unit should provide another weapon to that group.

Dubois was used on the right-wing half wall in Sunday’s session, a spot Paul Stastny started the season in before he was promoted to the top unit (moving into the high slot).

The Jets are currently in the middle of the pack on the power play, operating at 20-per cent efficiency.

The new structure for the top unit has generated plenty of offensive looks, but one of the areas that could use improvement is on zone entries — and, naturally, that’s an area where Ehlers excels.

Back to the original question, Ehlers is most comfortable in the spot currently occupied by Mark Scheifele (and previously occupied by Patrik Laine) and Kyle Connor isn’t going to be moved off the one-timer spot on right wing.

So outside of running a five-forward unit, Ehlers is probably going to remain on the second unit, unless the Jets consider using him in the slot spot currently occupied by Stastny.

How do you view the upcoming Adam Lowry contract negotiations? Has his play priced him out of Winnipeg? What would a contract comparable be? — Michael Gerl

One of the under-the-radar pieces of the two-for-one element of the Dubois trade for Laine and Jack Roslovic was the implications for the Seattle Kraken expansion draft.

By moving out two forwards, the Jets have a bit more wiggle room when it comes to getting a deal done with Lowry and being able to protect him among the seven forwards, three D-men and one goalie option.

Lowry is off to a fantastic start. He’s back to driving play in a checking-line role and is chipping in with some valuable secondary scoring, while also helping to spark a turnaround with a penalty-killing unit that got off to a rocky beginning.

Lowry is in the final year of the three-year, $8.75-million deal that carries an average annual value of $2.92 million. He’s also a pending unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career and it’s safe to say he’ll be looking for a raise.

Even with a flat cap and a squeeze on the “middle class” of players, Lowry is probably going to be seeking a salary in the $3.5-to-4 million dollar range on a multi-year deal.

Lowry has hit double digits in goals (including a career-best 15 in 2016-17) three times in his first six NHL seasons, but while he isn’t a big point producer, his value has always stretched beyond the numbers.

Lowry, who turns 28 in March, is also part of an emerging core group and it would be a surprise if he doesn’t get a deal done before hitting the open market.

As usual, the big question will come down to dollar and term.

With the expansion draft looming, Seattle’s pick may come down to four likely unprotected players: Appleton, Stanley, Harkins and maybe Niku. However, if Lowry re-signs, Stanley raising eyebrows and Appleton emerging, how do you see the off-season juggle going for the Jets? — Duane Woods

Seattle expansion is definitely a consideration for many teams around the NHL this season and it will become an even bigger factor as the NHL trade deadline approaches.

Back in September, I took an early look into the crystal ball and this is what came out — obviously things have changed a bit since then, so look for another expansive look over the next several months.

For the time being, it’s been suggested by some observers that the Jets roll the dice and don’t get an extension done with Lowry until after the expansion draft is complete, which would allow them to protect another forward.

That’s a risky proposition, especially when you consider the Kraken are not going to be facing the same type of salary cap crunch as many other teams.

As mentioned, an extension for Lowry seems like a plausible outcome and that would mean a forward protected list that also includes Blake Wheeler, Scheifele, Dubois, Connor, Ehlers and Andrew Copp.

Depending on how things play out over the course of the season, the most likely pick for Seattle appears to be Mason Appleton or Jansen Harkins if a forward is in their sights.

The sample size remains small, but the steady play of Stanley in his first taste of NHL action could certainly put him on the radar.

It’s impossible to know what the Jets might have in mind when it comes to a potential side deal, like the one they worked out with the Vegas Golden Knights the last time around.

But if the draft was being held tomorrow, Appleton is probably the front-runner.

I think it’s fair to say that the Jets could be a real contender if they could get a top two D-man. Personally I’d fully support trading future assets to try and get one. Do you think the jets are willing to go for an “all-in” type of approach if this season keeps on looking like a good one? — Devan Vercaigne

That depends on your definition of all-in. Does it mean the Jets would be willing to sacrifice a top prospect or a first-round pick for a rental player this year?

It’s a tough question, especially with the quarantine issues to sort through.

Not having a player potentially available for two weeks is a deterrent in the case for the Jets to make another blockbuster.

The other part of that equation relates to the aforementioned expansion draft.

Barring something unforeseen, the Jets are likely to protect Josh Morrissey, Neal Pionk and Dylan DeMelo as the three blue-liners. Bringing in a D-man with term could complicate that equation, though not rule it out entirely.

As for bringing one in on an expiring contract, it would depend solely on the cost of acquisition.

Since the Jets have the bulk of the core group signed for four seasons, including this one, there is some urgency to not miss out on an opportunity to take another run.

In this case, it will come down to whether the market favours the buyer or the seller — and it’s too early to get a read on that right now.

What I don’t expect is for the Jets to move out top D prospects like Ville Heinola or Dylan Samberg for a rental player, even if it’s for a top-pairing guy.

Heinola has the potential to grow into a top-pairing guy, so it’s doubtful he would be shipped out in that scenario.

The trade deadline of April 12 sneaks up on ya… (nearly 20 per cent into the season already!).

With the 14-day quarantine period, potential immigration and border issues, it’s reasonable to think any deadline deals (for the Jets) are within Canada. Providing the back-n-forth dollars make sense, do you see them targeting other Canada teams? Ottawa could be a fire sale with decent pieces and plenty of playoff experience. — Ryan Rintoul

A deal within the North Division seems like a plausible option, but it could depend on when or if any of the other teams fall out of the race for a playoff spot.

As for the Senators, there are some veteran forwards with playoff experience that are on expiring contracts (Derek Stepan, Cedric Paquette) but those guys are in depth roles right now and Stepan is making too much ($6.5 million), even if Ottawa kept a chunk of the salary.

But on the back end, where the Jets could be looking to add, the likes of Erik Gudbranson, Mike Reilly and Braydon Coburn are unlikely to move the needle.

The Vancouver Canucks could be a team that is targeted by the Jets (and others) if they can’t get things turned around, but it’s premature to suggest that group has reached the point of no return.

With youngsters like Bowen Byram and Cale Makar playing heavy minutes with Colorado (Stanley Cup contender), why is Maurice so hesitant to give Ville Heinola regular minutes? Very frustrating. — Reald Guyot

Reald is not alone in his frustration — my Twitter mentions basically feature an almost daily dose of the #FreeVille hashtag.

The best explanation I can provide is that it appears as though the Jets are sticking with a patient approach when it comes to Heinola, who was rock solid in his season debut against the Senators but hasn’t been back in game action since.

Missing out on training camp, having to quarantine after the world junior and not having NHL exhibition games or AHL action at his disposal have all worked against Heinola’s cause.

Right now, Maurice is opting for continuity — even if there are nights when Heinola’s puck-moving abilities would certainly come in handy.

It’s important to remember that Heinola is 19 years old — getting some additional seasoning in the minors isn’t going to hurt him in the long run, if that’s what ends up happening. He’s a guy who is going to make an impact with the Jets sooner than later.

What do you think is causing Josh Morrisey’s up-and-down play? Is it the constant changing of partners or the type of player that he is playing with? — Lee Davis

Effort hasn’t been an issue for Morrissey in the early stages of the season, but things haven’t been going as smoothly as expected.

This looks like the classic case of a player trying to do too much.

Morrissey welcomes the responsibilities he’s been given with open arms, though playing on his off-side when he’s trying to find a rhythm adds another layer to the challenge.

No, it certainly hasn’t been easy for him to work with five different defence partners in 11 games (Nathan Beaulieu, Niku, Heinola, DeMelo and Poolman) but being able to adapt to the challenges in this extraordinary season is something that comes with the territory.

The most comfortable Morrissey has looked was in the game against the Senators when he was paired with Heinola.

Having two puck movers on the same pairing (whether that’s Heinola or DeMelo) is something worth exploring further — and could be closer to happening once Poolman is back in action.

Morrissey is going to simplify things in his game and get settled in, it’s just a matter of time before that happens.

Do you think we’ll see Samberg enter the line-up this season, or is he likely to remain with the Moose/taxi squad for the time being? – Harrison L.

Going into the season, the chances of Samberg getting a shot to make his NHL debut would have been considered pretty high.

The play of Stanley may have lowered them a bit, but still wouldn’t rule it out entirely.

Samberg had a strong training camp and once he’s able to get into some American Hockey League game action, an opportunity for recall should still be available to him.

Being in an environment where he could get big minutes with the Manitoba Moose is probably what is best for his development right now, but this is a guy who projects to be a solid NHLer.

Given his size, mobility and ability to make the first pass, it won’t surprise me if Samberg is ready to challenge for full-time NHL duty by the fall.

That probably means he’ll still make his Jets debut sometime during this compressed season.

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