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Winnipeg Jets healing in time for regular season opener next week

10/03/2014 03:09 EDT | Updated 12/03/2014 05:59 EST
WINNIPEG - Winnipeg Jets scoring leader Blake Wheeler was back on the ice Friday preparing for the team's final pre-season game against the Calgary Flames but with his sights also set on next week's season opener.

"We want to get going," he said after an intense practice. "We're getting excited, finally getting our group on the ice. It hasn't happened much over camp so I think tomorrow night will be a good time to get everyone kind of together for the first time for a little bit so it will be a nice moment."

Injuries in camp have limited ice time for a lot of veterans, including Wheeler. He's on a new line with sophomore centre Mark Scheifele and Evander Kane and admits they have a lot of work to do to get ready, something that wasn't helped by pre-season aches and pains.

"We need to get on the same page," he said. "We need to play a little bit more simple. I think we're trying to do all the right things but it's tough. When you just kind of throw three guys together you know, sometimes it's difficult, it's not always instant magic.

"We've got to work at it. We've got to work at it in practice. We've got to talk about it. We have the capability to create a lot of offence so I think that's going to come."

Wheeler's team-leading 69 points ranked him 21st on the NHL scoring list last season. The lanky 26-year-old from Plymouth, Minn., also had a career-high 28 goals.

Most of the Jets' veterans were back on the ice and coach Paul Maurice said the team was getting close to full health ahead of Saturday's pre-season finale against the visiting Flames. The Jets, who dropped a 4-2 decision in Calgary on Thursday, will try to improve on their 2-4 pre-season mark.

Winnipeg will open the regular season Thursday at Arizona.

Forward Dustin Byfuglien was back skating Friday but Maurice said he has likely missed too much ice time to play big minutes right away in Winnipeg's top six as planned. He was originally tabbed to play on a line with team captain Andrew Ladd and centre Bryan Little.

Byfuglien, who was not expected to play Saturday, said he's feeling pretty good but it's hard to know when he'll be back in top form.

"I could go out there and play a full game, like a normal game, I feel," he said. "Would the legs and everything hold up? I don't know."

Patrice Cormier and Eric O'Dell could return by mid-week. T.J. Galiardi was skating again after undergoing surgery to repair an eye injury suffered during practice a week ago.

"And then everybody else, if they heal the way they're supposed to, I'm hoping for a full crew on Monday," said Maurice.

The Jets also placed forward Eric Tangradi on waivers Friday and will move him to their AHL farm team in St. John's, N.L., if he clears.

"A bunch of guys are ahead of him," said Maurice.

He said Tangradi came to camp in good shape and worked hard but the competition was tough with a lot of young talent.

"I don't think the role of in and out of the lineup was going to move his career along," he said. "He either needs to get a fresh start with another team ... or get back to a game where he can play 18 or 20 minutes a night."

Adam Lowry, 21, is one of those young players pushing the veterans at camp.

The six-foot-five forward played just one season in the AHL but has looked pretty good in the pre-season. He doesn't know what his chances are of making the team.

"I think we still have quite a few forwards left in camp," he said. "You can't look around and think too much about it. You kind of just have to focus on continuing to go out and continue to play well.

"If you take care of what you can do, it's in management's hands whether I stay up or go down."

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