BILLECK: Jets' Stanley making strides as defensive depth grows

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Want to divide a fanbase in mere seconds? Curious as to how you can get people at each other’s throats by simply tweeting out a single name? Just type Logan Stanley into a new Tweet, smash that send button and watch your mentions burn so hot, those in hell are feeling a little brisk.

Yes, Winnipeg’s two-first-name behemoth elicits all sorts of reactions from the Winnipeg Jets’ faithful. Ever since he was drafted in the same round as Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine, Stanley has taken a severe virtual beating by many.

Much of that has been out of his control. It wasn’t Stanley who traded up in 2016 to draft himself 18th overall, for example. Sure, he didn’t blossom as quickly as some would have liked, or perhaps even expected given his first-round status, but he was a project, and one the team always knew would take some time. So he also never took a training camp by storm like Ville Heinola or jumped into the NHL in his first season like a Jacob Trouba. But patience has always been in abundance internally.

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At 22 years of age, it was only earlier this week that Stanley stepped foot on the ice for his first National Hockey League game — a chance many doubted would ever happen.

It’s a narrative that has played out for the better part of the past four-and-a-half years, but it’s one that could be in the early stages of change.

“Could” and “early” are appropriate given that Stanley has only played three NHL games now, all in the span of the past five days, and produced his best effort in the lattermost contest — a 4-1 win for the Jets over the Ottawa Senators on Thursday — Winnipeg’s most complete game in a very young season.

We’re delving into recency bias and working with a small sample size, granted. More complete evaluations will come. But befitting of a 6-foot-7 man who scrapes ceilings when he walks into a room, Stanley has taken some lengthy strides in his brief time in the show.

None more so than Thursday’s game at the Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa. Despite some stutters to start the game — namely a bobbled puck that kept the Jets pinned in their own zone — Stanley settled quickly and seemed to find his grove. There were a couple of solid outlet passes, a nice exit up the middle and a bit more of an offensive mindset with six shot attempts in the game, second only to Andrew Copp. He finished with 56.7% of the shot share during his 12 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time, along with an expected goals percentage of 67.9% (a number that was 0% on Tuesday).

The giant he is on the ice, he’s been able to use his stick and get body position to defend. These might seem like things he should already know, but remember that Stanley only played half a season last year due to injury and hadn’t played a meaningful hockey game since March 8, 2020.

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The fact that he’s been able to improve over his first three games after being thrown to the wolves against Toronto on Monday is a testament to the work Stanley says he put in over his elongated off-season. The proof appears to be there.

Analytically, his first two games weren’t great. To be fair, the Jets were a bit of a tire fire in both of those affairs. Outworked, out-chanced and depending on Connor Hellebuyck and Laurent Brossoit to save them. It worked in one game and didn’t in the other.

But Stanley deserves some credit here for bouncing back from Tuesday’s game. He seemed more settled as if the game slowed down for him and he was able to process at a quicker rate. It’s a small window to peer through, but Stanley appears to be making small adjustments to his game on the fly.

Whether or not he will be able to continue tweaking his game on Saturday when the Jets face the Sens yet again remains to be seen.

It’s expected that Dylan DeMelo will rejoin the team after staying back in Winnipeg during the road trip to assist his wife and newborn baby.

Assuming DeMelo is an option, someone has to come out.

Heinola, who made his season debut on Thursday, was right on the money from the start. The ice running through the 19-year-old Finn’s veins is cold enough to adequately preserve Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine. He’s built up what appears to be his own immunity to pressure. He thrives in it — just re-watch his first-period battle with Sens forward Alex Galchenyuk.

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There’s also Nathan Beaulieu, a battle-hardened third-pairing guy who provides the Jets with some much-needed muscle on the blue line.

And at some point, Tucker Poolman is going to return from his COVID Protocol Related Absence, muddying the defensive waters further.

For once, the Jets have a good headache to manage — depth in the rearguard. We must not forget that Dylan Samberg is also eagerly awaiting his opportunity as well.

Head coach Paul Maurice has been criticized often for choosing veteran experience over effervescent youth. But the kids are making their case.

Perhaps it’s time to let them eat.

Maurice says patience with Stanley starting to bear fruit

Ask Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice about defenceman Logan Stanley and he’ll tell you that it’s no surprise the big man is now playing in the NHL.

Patience, in Stanley’s case, has been a virtue for management, but it’s also run thin for those looking on.

“So there are players that you draft that you know are going to take longer to develop into players,” Maurice said Friday. “Especially sometimes the bigger man, growing into his body, the strength and the endurance that you have to accumulate just over time. It’s not a matter of just having a couple of good summers and working hard, it takes some time. And then what happened is he got kind of put on a scale relative to some of the other kids that we drafted very high. So, we’ve been on an incredible run of our first-round picks playing early in their career.”

Some of those players developed quicker and made it into the lineup faster. And for Winnipeg’s brass, it allowed Stanley’s growth to take place at the required pace.

“He came back to camp a man. He gets out on the ice, we go hard and heavy for an hour and a half, he can do it and then when we skate him at the end, he’s still powerful,” Maurice said. “So, that’s light years from where he was.”

sbilleck@postmedia.com

Twitter: @scottbilleck

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