WINNIPEG - Winnipeg Jets captain Andrew Ladd says a good start is more important than ever with a lockout-shortened NHL season on the horizon.
"Our start's going to have to be key, for everyone in the league," he said after an unofficial practice Tuesday with a few other players.
"For us, last year, we didn't get off to a great start and that put us in a hole early and we were battling to get back to .500 right from the get go.
"If we can get out to a good start, get a good feeling about ourselves and get a good pace to our game, I think that will go a long way."
Their first season in Winnipeg saw the Jets stumble out of the gate and miss the playoffs, although they at least stayed close enough to be in the hunt. As the relocated Atlanta Thrashers prepare for their second season, they know time isn't on their side.
The schedule hasn't been released yet but the Jets were busy painting the logos and lines on the ice at the MTS Centre Tuesday as players continued to arrive in town.
Ladd isn't so much worried about the physical aspect of a schedule that could see teams playing a game every other day.
"I think the biggest hurdle is probably mentally," he said. "Just, you know, at times it can become monotonous and you have to prepare every day finding your routine to make sure you can play your top performance every night."
The team isn't a whole lot different this season.
Draft pick Mark Scheifele is coming to camp and might be more of a factor now that he's had more seasoning in the OHL and AHL. He also impressed with his play at the world junior championship, but he's still just 19.
The Jets did add some much-needed scoring talent and experience up front by signing veteran centre Olli Jokinen, a free agent who played the last couple of seasons with the Calgary Flames.
The Flames' No. 2 scorer with 61 points in 2011-2012, he has more than 1,000 games on his skates and Ladd says they can use that kind of experience.
"He's a big fast, strong guy that can skate and a veteran guy that's been around a long time and has been a very consistent player in this league," Ladd said.
"For us, I think that's something we were lacking last year . . . more veteran presence up front, more consistency and more depth up the middle."
There is the perennial question of what kind of shape top-scoring defenceman Dustin Byfuglien will be in when he reports. His weight is a regular topic of interest for hockey bloggers.
And neither goaltender Ondrej Pavelec nor forward Evander Kane were that impressive when they played in Europe during the lockout.
Pavelec also was in hot water over an impaired driving conviction in his native Czech Republic.
But Ladd insists he isn't concerned.
"All three of those guys played great for us last year. They're three key guys going forward," he said. "I'm not worried at all. I'm sure they'll be three great players for us this year."
As for Byfuglien, who successfully dealt with an impaired boating charge himself last year in Minnesota, Ladd says he has already spoken with him and told him the short season is right up his alley.
"Usually his first 50 games are pretty good, so this should play out pretty good for him."