WINNIPEG —; Paul Maurice had a warning for Winnipeg Jets fans who think the team’s playoff hopes were hurt by its youth movement this season.
There could be more pain around the corner, the coach said Monday after exit meetings with players who will leave the city and the team’s disappointing 35-39-8 record behind them.
“I would like to see the best players make our team,” Maurice said.
“And if they’re all young guys, they’re all young guys.
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“If that means, in the Central Division, that you’ve got to take a knock or two, I think that is the best thing for the organization.”
Maurice’s comments came after the Jets added another young piece to their roster on Monday, announcing the signing of University of Michigan star and Hobey Baker finalist Kyle Connor.
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The 19-year-old native of Shelby Township, Mich., racked up an NCAA-leading 71 points in 38 games, including 35 goals in his freshman season.
While players talked about how the team’s youth impacted the product in good and bad ways — 11 rookies got playing time — Connor’s addition was seen as great news.
“That’s awesome,” centre Mark Scheifele said. “It’s good for us. He looks like an unbelievable player. I know I’m excited to meet him for sure.”
Scheifele’s star also rose during his third season with the Jets, so much so that the 23-year-old’s name was mentioned alongside popular veteran Blake Wheeler when players were asked who could be the team’s next captain.
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Maurice and management will choose the player to replace former captain Andrew Ladd, who was traded to Chicago in February, but no timeline has been given.
Rookie winger Nikolaj Ehlers, who finished the season on a line with those two candidates, cast his vote for a young captain.
“I think a guy like Scheif,” said Ehlers, who notched 38 points in 72 games. “He’s a young guy, but he has a good, big mouth, if you know what I mean.
READ MORE: Winnipeg Jets captain Andrew Ladd traded to Chicago Blackhawks
“He’s a really good guy on and off the ice. He really gets the guys going. We have lots more guys like that, but I think that Scheif is a guy that steps up really well.”
General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff used Scheifele, the club’s first-round pick in 2011 (seventh overall), as an example of patience paying off in its draft-and-develop strategy.
In his third season, Scheifele tallied a career-high 61 points in 71 games, including a team-high 29 goals. He ended with a 10-game point streak of 15 points.
“For the young guys that came into the organization, we’ve tried to nurture them and tried to develop them,” Cheveldayoff said.
“From Day 1, you’re starting to see now the fruits of some of those players that we drafted.”
The Jets opened the season with a 6-3-1 mark in their first 10 games, but then injuries and inconsistency hit. They finally won more than two games in a row when they ended the season on a four-game winning streak and 6-2-2 run in their last 10.
Goalie Ondrej Pavelec said it was “a 100 per cent disappointing season” for him, especially his three months off because of injury and the team’s inability to string together victories.
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“We have what we deserve,” he said.
“You don’t make the playoffs by accident.”
He was then asked if the young lineup was a factor.
“It could be,” he replied. “You can’t buy the experience. They are young guys. Our management wants to go this way, with young guys. They want to play them. The more games they’re going to play, the better players they’re going to be. But they need experience.”
Wheeler, 29, chose to see the glass as half full in the big picture.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who came a long way,” he said. “Certainly in the second half of the year, a lot of the young guys who were given a little bit bigger of a responsibility, a little bit more opportunity to play some more meaningful minutes.
“I think a lot of guys took a lot of big steps so that’s something to be excited about for us.”