The Winnipeg Jets’ 2020 offseason did not include a single big-name signing. A number of depth pieces were added to the fold, but the majority of ‘moves’ came within the team’s fourth line and bottom-pair defenders.
In Tuesday’s 3-2 victory over the Calgary Flames, Winnipeg’s first two goals came off the sticks of offseason signings Trevor Lewis and Derek Forbort. Former members of the Los Angeles Kings, Forbort signed a one-year, $1M contract with the Jets in October, before Lewis signed a professional tryout with the team that led to the veteran forward locking down a one-year, $750K deal the day before the start of the 2020-21 season.
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On Tuesday, the two additions fired up the offence with goals 35 seconds apart in the opening period. For those unfamiliar with the gruelling defensive work of the former Kings, seeing known ‘grinders’ find the scoreboard provided many with feelings of optimism regarding depth scoring and hidden offence.
“It gives us a big spark and it relieves a lot of pressure from the guys that it’s expected from,” goaltender Laurent Brossoit said post-game. “Our bottom two lines have been outstanding for us in the last few games. That’s kind of our identity as we’re a pretty deep team now and we showed that.”
But according to Brossoit, the occasional help that Lewis and Forbort provide on the offence is nothing compared to what they do at the other end of the rink, most notably a Forbort goalmouth swat with seconds remaining in the game.
“Yeah, he’s been doing that for us since he’s gotten here,” Brossoit laughed. ”He showed it again tonight and added to the offensive side of things as well. He’s been a great pickup for us.”
Contradictory to Brossoit’s defensive praise, Forbort’s longtime teammate Lewis believes that the offence has been the biggest surprise from the Jets’ solid blueliner.
“He’s been awesome,” Lewis said of Forbort. “I’m probably more impressed with the goal than the one he saved, because I haven’t seen too many of those out of him. He’s got a good stick, very good positionally, huge on the P.K. I think he’s been great since he’s been here and I’m glad to be here with him.”
— Hockey Daily 365 (@HockeyDaily365) February 3, 2021
But much like Lewis, Forbort was also quick to praise the work of his former Kings running mate.
“It’s awesome,” he said of once again playing with Lewis. “In L.A., he was voted the ‘unsung hero’ like every year. He just does the little things out there that it takes to win. To see him get rewarded, it was pretty awesome. Everyone was pretty excited for him to score that goal.”
And on his miraculous, last-minute swat of the puck undoubtedly heading for Jets’ net, the hefty blueliner was taken back to his outdoor, offseason training.
“I didn’t know exactly where it was going to land, I just knew it wasn’t going to be in a good spot no matter what,” he chuckled. “You just want to get that puck out of there. It happens pretty quick and you kind of swat it to get it out of there. I felt like I was playing volleyball back in California.”
The play of the former Kings has not gone unnoticed within the team. Both captain Blake Wheeler and head coach Paul Maurice have weighed in on different occasions on the reliance they have found in Forbort and Lewis.
“Those two guys in particular are guys that just do the right things every single day,” Wheeler said Wednesday. “They bring the right presence in the room, a positive approach to how they play the game. They make a positive impact on the ice every single night. It’s great. The boys get fired up when you see guys like that get rewarded. Especially in coming to a new team, sometimes it’s tough to get acclimated, but to see those guys get rewarded is awesome.”
Coach Maurice was quick to shift the praise to his partner in crime, the team’s general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff.
“Trevor Lewis has been a really, really good signing by Kevin,” Maurice said. “He’s had an impact; he’s an elite penalty killer. Shorthanded goals are always really good because they’re tough on the other team and good for your team. Forbort’s also kind of in that fabric of the room, where he’s a really good guy, a really good team guy. So those goals mean more. You’ve got Lewis and Forbort, they play hard minutes. The shot blockers, the penalty killers. Everybody wants to score goals, so when those two guys do it gives you a really good boost.”
Lewis, 34, has won two Stanley Cups with the Kings. According to Maurice, he has been a player on his ‘watch list’ for a number of years. Now having the opportunity to see him on his bench below gives the veteran bench boss much excitement.
“He’s an interesting guy,” he said. “He’s a little like Derek Forbort, where his name has been on the coaches’ board of players we think might be available. He’s got just an incredible reputation. So we have an L.A. connection between Jamie Kompon and Dave Lowry. He just had such an incredible reputation. What I do think though is that he’s faster. He’s faster than I remember him. I think that the length of this pause, for a bunch of players, has really helped them. Because he is just in incredible shape and he has gotten quicker.”
And on the addition of Forbort, Maurice has been over the moon. Not only has he found a permanent home alongside Neal Pionk, but he has served in a leadership role for the younger Jets defenders.
“Those are the fun guys, that had to work really, really hard to get in the league, really hard to stay in it and have figured out the most important thing and that’s to truly enjoy it,” Maurice said of Forbort. “Being around the guys, being one of the guys, telling stories, telling jokes. He doesn’t have a brand. He’s not selling anything. He’s just a hockey player. So you know, you look at that blueline and a bunch of those guys… Nathan Beaulieu is the same way. Those guys in your room get such an amount of respect from everybody. They’re so appreciated. I’m happy for him. He’s found a place and a great mentor for Logan Stanley, right? Another big man, gets to sit and watch him play, watch how he handles (things), watch the confidence he plays with, with his stick and with his gapping. Again, Kevin picked up a real good one for us there.”