Given the high volume of shooting attempts the towering Winnipeg Jets defenseman was able to generate in his debut NHL season, it’s no exaggeration to suggest that Stanley was playing in the deadlines realm.
But that’s part of the beauty of hockey: Whether you’re a raw rookie or a seasoned veteran, goals can often be difficult to achieve.
Some nights, glorious luck strikes the iron or is quickly erased by an acrobatic stop by the opposing goalkeeper.
But sometimes the stars align and magical milestones end up on national television.
After demonstrating an uncanny ability to pull off his shot from the point in the first 22 games of his career, Stanley found himself in the slot with the puck on his stick in the second period on Saturday night against the Calgary Flames.
When he tore his shooting bar against David Rittich, Stanley let out a throaty roar that told you everything you needed to know about what it meant for the Kitchener / Waterloo product to deliver his first NHL goal. .
“It’s a really good feeling to have that one. Something you dreamed of when you were a kid, playing your first NHL game and scoring a NHL goal, ”said Stanley. “I had chances to score that didn’t come in. I try not to think about it too much. My main job is to keep the puck out of the net. Just nice to have one against the goalie.
“My parents would say it’s because all the pucks I was shooting on the basement wall, maybe, while working on this stuff. It’s just something I like to work on after practice and I like to shoot the puck. When I have a chance, I like to film it. Sometimes there are other pieces to be made.
Stanley’s scorer made the score 2-2, but the story took a turn and ended with a 4-2 loss to a Flames team who played with the desperation necessary for a squad trying to keep up. his playoff hopes.
Despite the loss, Stanley’s praise poured in from his teammates.
Considering how far Stanley had come to reach this point, the reaction was expected.
“It was just a matter of time. He shoots so many pucks, he has such a heavy shot, ”said Jets captain Blake Wheeler. “(Stanley’s) was probably our biggest pleasant surprise this year. We couldn’t be happier with him so it was great to see him be rewarded.
There is nothing quite like the look on a player’s face after scoring for the first time.
“Yeah, that’s awesome. It’s one of those things you can take with you for life, ”said Jets center Adam Lowry. “It’s one of those good memories that he will keep. To see him come so close to the last game, make one on the post. For him to have a nice one (Saturday), we are all very happy for him. I hope this is the first in a long series. ”
Stanley was seen as a long-term project when the Jets traded with the Philadelphia Flyers to reach 18th overall in the 2016 NHL Draft and picked him.
At a time when the early Jets players regularly jumped into the roster over the course of a few seasons, let’s just say that part of the fanbase was starting to get impatient with the progress of the defense prospect.
Stanley returned for two more seasons in the Ontario Hockey League and spent the first two seasons of his professional career with Manitoba Moose in the American Hockey League.
There were signs of growth during this rookie campaign and a few injuries to overcome last season, but Stanley was the first to admit he wanted more of himself.
He was determined to take a step forward and was not afraid to share that opinion publicly during training camp.
Well, after Luca Sbisa was called for waivers by the Nashville Predators and Tucker Poolman tested positive for COVID-19 after the season opened, Stanley was pushed into Jets roster.
Stanley made his NHL debut against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Jan. 18 and played 13 straight games before being replaced by Poolman.
Then, after sitting for almost a month, Stanley had another chance when Nathan Beaulieu injured his hand.
Since returning to the roster, Stanley has been building confidence and showing signs of growth to become a regular NHL player.
Of course, Stanley is to some extent in the shelter during the third couple, but that’s not uncommon for a player of his age and experience.
“At first you kind of have the tendency in your first few games in the NHL, you don’t really want the puck on your stick,” said Lowry. “I think now he’s gotten used to the pace, he’s gotten used to the speed, he’s kind of gotten used to the positioning. He begins to use his body. You saw him in Vancouver, he steps in and kind of sets us the tone with a good fight. He was really good at stopping the cycle in our zone and getting shots from the point.
“So he continues to improve every day. As the matches progress, he looks more and more comfortable. ”
Some of the subtle things Stanley does with the puck in tight areas has caught the attention of the Jets coaching staff and his teammates.
It’s hard not to stand out when you’re six feet tall, but Stanley is gaining confidence and showing he would love to secure his place in the roster even when the Jets are back to full health.
“You know what, he’s been so close. He’s had a few bars and he’s had a bunch of good shots, ”Jets head coach Paul Maurice said. “But I really enjoyed seeing his confidence grow and the quality of his game. There aren’t a lot of great men who can go down like that, so we think we’ve got a great find here. Really happy with where he is.
Stanley has been slow to appreciate what he has been able to accomplish so far, although the compressed nature of the schedule doesn’t always leave much time for reflection.
“It’s going fast this year, a lot is happening,” said Stanley. “It’s a little hard to breathe and watch what’s going on. I’m just having fun and trying to improve myself every day here and trying to help this hockey club win hockey games.
The loss ended a three-game winning streak for the Jets, who slipped to 21-11-2 and are now two points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs in the battle for first place in the North Division.
Will the Jets see it as a missed opportunity, a chance to perhaps leave the Flames reeling in the rearview mirror, since the cushion would have expanded to 13 points (instead of nine) with another regulation victory?
Maybe, but for a team that responded to back-to-back losses to the Edmonton Oilers with three straight wins, it feels more like a little bump in the road heading into that three-game series final on Monday.
Guarding has been the foundation of the Jets’ success this season, but it was a rare night off for Jets replacement Laurent Brossoit.
Although two of the four goals changed direction on his teammates’ sticks, including one in the first minute of the third period, Brossoit directed the final goal into his own goal when he misplayed a shootout from Sam Bennett that seemed to go wide. .
The Jets certainly weren’t pointing the finger at the direction of the crease, as Brossoit still has a .914 save percentage in his nine appearances so far this season and has done his part to instill belief with his work.
“You learn over time that these guys are really proud of professional athletes, so you wouldn’t say anything to anyone after a game like this,” said Maurice. “You would wait, slap him on the pads the next time you’re on the ice, giggle and move on.”
A portion of the Jets advancing looks at another opportunity to regroup.
As the Jets set to close a seven-game road trip against the Flames, it will certainly be another test.
The Jets are 8-1-1 in games after a regulation loss and that rebound ability has become their calling card, an essential part of their identity.
Relying on that basic piece is something the Jets plan to do on a regular basis during the stretch race, as it’s the only way they can stay in the race for the top spot.