WINNIPEG — The importance of the seven simple words Adam Lowry dispensed should not be discounted.
Winnipeg Jets training camp is only six days old, but so much of what the organization hopes to accomplish this season is dependent on how a pair of off-season additions on defence are able to find their respective footing in this latest stop.
Lowry is one of the Jets’ resident quote machines, happy to dispense knowledge when asked about virtually any topic.
“They’ve kind of just fit right in,” said Lowry, who would add plenty of context as his answer continued. “Different players and different styles, but both pieces that, in years past, we’ve been missing. (Dillon) is huge. He’s going to be great on the back end. I think he compliments some of our smaller d-men really well. You’ve seen what he’s done in his career. He’s a great defender. He moves the puck well, he’s big and he’s hard to play against. He makes going to the net really miserable.
“And (Schmidt), he’s loud, he’s fun to be around. He moves the puck well, he’s a great skater. I think they both come in and fit in and, hopefully, that continues and we see the positive impacts they have on their team.”
Before we unpack the rest of that answer, let’s start at the beginning.
It’s one thing to identify a deficiency on a roster, but finding the right skill set and personality to fit can be a greater challenge, especially when it comes to having the salary-cap space available — not to mention the assets required to acquire the players.
Schmidt and Dillon are also known as great people and great teammates, so it does not come as a surprise they’ve been able to fit in seamlessly. But sometimes a situation that looks to be a perfect fit in almost every way doesn’t always work out for a variety of reasons.
It’s no secret the Jets were looking for an upgrade on the back end after a couple of seasons of transition. Both the Washington Capitals and Vancouver Canucks had players they needed to allocate significant contracts to, which left Schmidt and Dillon available.
Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff was quick to strike on both deals, securing a longer-term solution instead of a Band-Aid, given the term left on the contracts for Schmidt (four years) and Dillon (three years).
Schmidt had to waive his no-trade clause for the deal to go through, while Dillon had to wrap his head around the fact a club that signed him to a four-year deal was sending him packing only a few months after he’d made a commitment to them. Adjusting to a new situation isn’t always easy, but it’s clear Schmidt and Dillon seem to be ahead of the game.
When an organization adds a couple of veterans, it’s fun to pontificate about where and they might fit on the depth chart. On that front, it wasn’t a surprise to see Schmidt alongside Josh Morrissey and Dillon on a pairing with Neal Pionk, giving Jets head coach Paul Maurice multiple options to consider for the primary shutdown role.
Schmidt should help provide some stability for Morrissey, who has rotated through a large number of D partners since the departure of Jacob Trouba to the New York Rangers in the deal that brought back Pionk.
“He’s the total package of what we need. He fits in in every way,” said Jets captain Blake Wheeler. “A guy that can get up and down the ice, move the puck and bring a little bit of flavour to the locker room, too.”
As for Dillon, he brings an element the Jets haven’t had an abundance of on defence since the 2019 off-season departures of Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Chiarot, Tyler Myers and Trouba.
On the opening day of training camp, Maurice referred to it as texture.
Schmidt saw plenty of Dillon when both were playing in the Pacific Division, with the Vegas Golden Knights and San Jose Sharks respectively, and he was able to put together his own scouting report, which was aided by some feedback from the forwards who had to battle with him in the corners and in front of the net.
“I know that our forwards never liked going against him,” said Schmidt. “So that’s always a good thing to hear when you get a guy like that (on your team). That rough, tough, rugged nature doesn’t really translate off the ice. He’s awesome.”
When you look closely at the defence corps as a whole, the Jets will play a more physical game — even though there’s still ample skill sprinkled throughout the group.
“Yeah, it’s a mentality and mindset. Those guys (Dillon, Logan Stanley) do bring a tougher edge to the club and it has a ripple effect on us,” said Pionk. “It’s not just necessarily dropping the gloves. You can be tough in a lot of ways. You can take a big hit to make a play, you can throw a big hit, you can block a shot — that’s toughness. You don’t have to drop the gloves.”
Schmidt was a bundle of energy as he spoke with reporters for more than 11-and-a-half minutes on Tuesday afternoon — his first group session since training camp began.
Naturally, he was asked about what he’s learned so far about his new defence partner.
“Man, peeling back the layers of this Josh Morrissey is a treat of mine coming in. It’s fun for me. I really enjoy it. Just getting to know him and the rest of our group as well,” said Schmidt. “I talk a lot. He listens a lot. I think I’ve reeled him into the tractor beam a few times, the 20-minute tractor beam.”
In that tractor beam, Schmidt is getting to know the tendencies of his partner and looking for what makes him tick, gathering information to help make this partnership a successful one.
Thanks to a mutual friend in Dallas Stars goalie Braden Holtby, Schmidt knows that Dillon is one of the guys he can count on when he needs to lighten the mood or try to fire his teammates up.
There’s also an immediate and unifying bond Schmidt shares with Dillon and Pionk, as the trio are all undrafted free agents who have carved out impressive paths to becoming top-4 defencemen who play prominent roles.
Dillon provided a glimpse into his psyche on Day 2 of training camp, when he openly discussed the chip on his shoulder that only got bigger after this trade to the Jets. It’s not the type of thing that weighs him down, but there’s little doubt it provides some additional fuel.
“Winnipeg is getting a really motivated Brenden Dillon,” said Dillon. “I want to be the best player I can be in all facets. I want to learn. I want to get better.”
As far as the high expectations for this Jets team go, Schmidt welcomes them with open arms — even if he chose his words wisely when asked to weigh in on the subject.
“I’ll try and be short,” said Schmidt. “That group will decide how far we go. That’s really the best way to look at it. Because it’s in the room. How we play and how we decide to conduct ourselves, that will determine how far we go.
“There’s a lot of things that can happen, a lot of things that have to go your way in a year to win the whole thing. But I really think we have a group that can… determine where we go this year.”