Forget Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, as hockey’s biggest stars on Wednesday night were Jansen Harkins and Evgeny Svechnikov.
“Who?” you ask… Well, for starters, the two Jets linemates combined for three goals and six points on the evening, helping Winnipeg to a 5-1 win at the newly rebranded Canada Life Centre.
The typically star-studded Edmonton Oilers travelled to Winnipeg on for a midweek, preseason tune up against the Jets. Those hoping to catch a glimpse of scoring phenoms Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl left the rink disappointed as Edmonton opted to go with a much younger and less experienced lineup on the evening.
Despite missing out on McDavid and Co., those who showed up with aspirations of a big Jets win most definitely got their wish. Winnipeg scored first and scored often, en route to a rather lopsided victory over the team they swept in the first round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs just four months prior.
The Jets wasted little time getting on the scoreboard on Wednesday, as Harkins picked up his first marker of the preseason just 1:31 after the opening puck drop. With Cole Perfetti finding Svechnikov alone in front of the net, the 24-year-old banged in the loose puck on a rebound tally.
After having already brought the fully-vaccinated fans in attendance at Canada Life Centre to their collective feet, Harkins almost gave Winnipeg a two-goal lead just moments later. With Ostap Safin in the box for high-sticking, the youngster batted a cross-ice pass out of the air and on net moments before the penalty expired. Svechnikov and Harkins combined for three quality scoring chances in the opening frame, helping the Jets to a hefty 15-4 shot lead through 20 minutes of play.
“I think Harks is obviously pretty fast,” Svechnikov said postgame. “Any time he has have a chance in the rush so you can hit him and have a breakaway like he scored. It’s been fun with that. And obviously Perfetti, Cole, he is very skilled and, in small areas, is very good with his hands and can create space and make plays. I think we all feel that and it’s been fun.”
Much like that of the opening frame, Winnipeg got another marker in the early stages of the middle stanza. Building off of his strong first period, Svechnikov perfectly redirected a Logan Stanley point shot past Ilya Konovalov for his first goal in a Jets sweater.
Less than five minutes later fellow newcomer Austin Poganski scored his first of the preseason on a rush play up ice. A Ville Heinola breakout pass landed on the stick of Mikey Eyssimont who drove hard to the Edmonton net. Eyssimont’s shot went up in the air before bouncing off Poganski’s upper body and landing past the goal line, ending Konovalov’s night rather short.
“They had one good deflection and the other one – I think – bounced off our guy’s head or something,” Oilers’ head coach Dave Tippett said. “It was one of those nights but we didn’t create very much. We didn’t make enough plays. That’s what you’re looking for, you’re looking for players who can handle pressure, can make plays under pressure, how they react in certain situations.”
The Oilers put Stuart Skinner in the cage for the remainder of the game in hopes of a better result. However, he managed to stop just one of the first two shots he faced, with Harkins collecting his second goal of the game – this one, albeit, was a beauty.
Picking up a stretch pass from Dylan DeMelo, Svechnikov made a nifty move at the attacking blueline, before getting the puck across to Harkins. The speedy forward split the Edmonton defence before dropping a quick shoulder fake and wristing the puck in the cage.
Having failed to nail down a consistent roster spot last season, Harkins certainly made quite an impression on Wednesday.
“It’s not just about being able to score some goals, but he’s a little faster here tonight, he’s got a little more jump on some plays because of that,” head coach Paul Maurice said. “He made a really, really good read in the defensive zone on the switch off down. We got the puck and out it went, so it goes into other parts of the game too. That, really for the those guys, might be the most important thing. We’re not asking Jansen to score 30 this year to make the team. That can’t be the qualifier for him making the team. There are lots of other parts of the game that he has to do consistently and scoring makes your whole game (better).”
But it wasn’t just Harkins that deserved the praise, as he and Svechnikov combined for six points on the night while leading the team in shots, thus giving coach Mo a better look at what could prove to be a deadly duo this season.
Edmonton did strike back late in the frame, as Brad Malone beat Connor Hellebuyck with a seeing-eye shot off a Zack Kassian setup pass. Leading 4-1 through 40 minutes of play, Winnipeg also maintained a heavy 21-9 lead in shots.
Kyle Connor put things out of reach midway through the final frame, scoring a one-timer off a fortuitous Jets bounce. With 10:52 to play, Winnipeg won an offensive zone faceoff, to which Josh Morrissey’s shot deflected off the skate of defenceman Evan Bouchard and landed directly on Connor’s tape. The Jets’ goal scoring leader from 2020-21 made no mistake making it a 5-1 game on his first of the preseason.
Hellebuyck stopped 17 of Edmonton’s 18 shots on the night to pick up his first win of the preseason, while Konovalo and Skinner combined to make just 23 saves on 28 shots Wednesday.
Winnipeg next travels to Edmonton for a road showdown at 6:00 PM central this Saturday. The game can be viewed live on TSN.