Jets’ Saku Maenalanen aims to make the most of his ‘last chance’ in the NHL
WINNIPEG — For a guy who sees himself at the Last Chance Cafe, Saku Maenalanen is doing everything in his power to win a seat at the table — or at the very least extend his reservation for a longer look.
Maenalanen arrived at Winnipeg Jets training camp as an unknown, a forward who had a brief cup of coffee during the 2018-19 season, appearing in 34 games for Rod Brind’s Carolina Hurricanes ‘Amour, scoring four goals and four assists while splitting the American Hockey League season with the Charlotte Checkers.
After spending the past three seasons playing overseas, Maenalanen has returned to North America on a one-year bilateral contract with the Jets with one specific goal in mind.
“I wanted to play in the NHL. This is my last chance,” Maenalanen said before heading into his second preseason game, a 5-3 Jets victory over the Ottawa Senators. « I’m 28. That’s why I’m here. I’m a much better player. That’s why I went back to Europe to play games, and now I’m ready.
« It’s good luck for me. »
Originally chosen in the fifth round of the 2013 NHL Draft by the Nashville Predators, Maenalanen believes his game has matured and he’s ready to take the next step.
Only time will tell if he can convince Jets head coach Rick Bowness and the rest of the coaching staff that he’s ready to beat one of the incumbents for the job or if he can overtake one of the hopefuls vying for a spot on today’s opening roster.
Maenalanen was noticeable throughout training camp and made a solid debut against the Oilers in Sunday night’s 4-0 loss, doing enough to earn an unscheduled second look on Tuesday.
« He’s a big, strong guy. He’s not scared, » Bowness said. more.
Maenalanen, who noted he was often used shorthanded when dressing for the Finnish national team, appeared to take advantage of those extra three minutes or so (taking it up to 14:18 on Tuesday), producing two shots on goal and four shots. attempts while being credited with two hits.
« The first thing that jumps out at you is that he’s very skilled and has good clearance, » said Jets forward Mikey Eyssimont, who fitted in well on a line with Maenalanen on Tuesday. . “You saw it on that shot at the end of the race (in the third period). But he can also put a bit of courage into his game. He has a big body and he uses it well.
Eyssimont also showed well through two games and was rewarded with a power-play goal on Tuesday, sending home a Kyle Connor one-timer.
Although Eyssimont drew attention for his pain-in-the-you-know-where style and dogged determination, he replaced Pierre-Luc Dubois on the Jets’ top power play unit against the Senators and makes his opportunity count.
As Maenalanen tries to fight his way into the discussion for a place on the list, Eyssimont is likely to be fighting to be one of the first called up, although his tenacity has certainly caught the attention of the coaching staff until here.
Speaking of forwards leaving an impression, 2020 second rounder Daniel Torgersson also had a night to remember, scoring twice and snapping a chance off the post as he tried to complete the hat trick – evoking memories from Hannu Jarvenpaa’s pre-season highlights pack of the Jets 1.0 era.
Torgersson got a taste of the North American game late last season, playing four games with the Manitoba Moose to help prepare for his first NHL training camp.
Dressing up for Sweden and winning a bronze medal at the World Junior Hockey Championship in August also helped put Torgersson in the right frame of mind.
On Tuesday, Torgersson showed his cleverness by finding a weak point in the slot, allowing Connor (who paced the offensive attack with a goal and three points) to find it for a perfect point shot that opened the scoring, just 22 seconds after serving a minor sentence for tripping.
“I took a stupid penalty in the offensive zone and then the team had a pretty good PK. We killed the PK and then I don’t really know,” Torgersson said. « I just walked into the offensive zone and (Kyle) Connor just passed me the puck and I thought, (expletive), I gotta hit the net » and I did.
Torgersson converted an Alex Limoges pass from the doorstep for his other goal and then nearly wrapped up his first three-goal outing in recent memory.
« I was hoping for it, sometimes you’re lucky, but other times you’re unlucky with yourself, » Torgersson said, asking if he thought third-period luck was coming. « So next time. »
When you’re destined for the Moose like Torgersson, doing enough to get that next game and survive the next round of cups is all you can really focus on.
The battle for the blue line has been a topic of conversation and will continue to be throughout training camp as maneuvers for position continue.
It was an up and down performance for Ville Heinola, who was caught pinching a goal from Tyler Motte on an odd run but also converted a perfect pass from Adam Lowry after a clever zone entry from Cole Perfecti.
Heinola showed offensive flair, recording three shots on goal and six shot attempts to go along with two hits and three blocked shots.
Heinola, who played 17:34, is trying to make an impact but needs to show Bowness and associate coach Scott Arniel that his risk/reward quotient is at the right level.
Dylan Samberg, another candidate for a position at fullback, was pretty solid on his pre-season debut.
Former Wheat Kings forward from Brandon and Roblin, MB. Product Jayce Hawryluk passed Samberg on Cole Reinhardt’s first Senators goal, but that scorer had more to do with Neal Pionk being caught out of position on the play.
Samberg finished with four shot attempts, three hits and a blocked shot in just under 20 minutes on the job, often looking like the player who was comfortable during his first glimpse of NHL action of the season. last – when he overcame an injury on the opening day of training camp.
For those vying for a place on the blue line or on the fringes of the attacking group, the next step is to start separating themselves from the competition – something that has not yet happened in the eyes of the head coach. .
Bowness was unhappy with the Jets’ puck handling and shift lengths in the first two periods.
« For a lot of guys it was their first game, but that being said, we have to play a lot faster than that, » Bowness said. “The two things that slow you down are long shifts and turnovers, and we were guilty of both tonight. Take out the X’s and the O’s and everything. If you want to stay there for 55 seconds and you’re going to turn the pucks over, you’re going to play very, very slowly, which we did.
« In the third we shortened the shifts, we started going north and we looked a lot better. There’s a right way to play and it took us until the third to figure it out. .
The Jets are back in action Thursday night against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre, before heading home to host the Edmonton Oilers on the day they unveil the Dale Hawerchuk statue.