Jets' Fehr brings it back home

A born-and-raised Manitoban who stayed close to his roots even while playing in Washington, Eric Fehr hopes a move to Winnipeg gives him the chance to showcase scoring skills that have laid dormant for much of his pro career.
Eric Fehr, far left, was on hand to help the Jets unveil their new sweaters, but he won't be able to suit up for a game until at least November. (John Woods/CP)

This is the second installment in a series of profiles on newly arrived players with the seven Canadian-based team as previews the 2011-12 NHL season. You can also read about Calgary's Lee Stempniak.

In our series of features on "new guys in town" with the seven Canadian-based NHL clubs, Eric Fehr's story is a little different. Yes, the Winnipeg Jets forward is new to his team, but he's more familiar than most with the town.

A native of Winkler, Man., a small Red River Valley town about 120 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg, Fehr has returned to his home province every summer since turning pro in 2005. For the last few summers he's trained in Winnipeg, keeping a townhouse in the city.

The pad came in handy when Fehr was shipped from Washington to the Jets in a July 8 trade. Five weeks earlier, his future teammates had been moved en masse to Winnipeg after the NHL announced the franchise was relocating from Atlanta.

The late start didn't hurt Fehr, though. While many of his new teammates scrambled to find suitable housing in Winnipeg's scarce rental market, the big winger was already set up.

"I've heard one of the guys, I'm not going to name him, but he wanted to rent a place and when the person found out he was a Jet, they upped the price," Fehr said over the phone during a break in training camp. "I guess you want to try and keep that secret when you're trying to rent a place."

Manitoba Men

Eric Fehr (Winkler) was one of only three players on the Jets' training-camp roster who hails from the Keystone Province.

The others are Derek Meech — a veteran defencemen signed away from the Red Wings organization after spending last year in the minors — and Jason Gregoire — a young forward battling for a roster spot after playing the last three years at the University of North Dakota.

Fehr has remained something of a secret himself since the Capitals drafted him 18th overall in 2003. A fearsome power forward with the WHL's Brandon Wheat Kings, Fehr scored 109 goals and racked up 220 penalty minutes over his final two junior seasons. But by the time he became a full-time NHLer in 2008-09, Fehr found himself buried on a loaded Washington team that featured star forwards like Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Semin.

Fehr contributed where he could — he scored 21 goals in 69 games in 2009-10 despite averaging only 12:07 of ice time a game and 1:26 of power-play time — but the depth chart proved difficult to climb.

There should be more opportunity for Fehr to flash his scoring skills with the Jets, who don't have a single player on the roster that reached even the modest plateau of 60 points last season.

"I definitely want to be able to help out on the score sheet," Fehr said. "I think I have a lot more to give offensively than I have in the past couple years, and I'm hoping to earn an opportunity to play on the top couple lines, play some specialty teams, and just work my way into playing in different systems."

To do those things, though, he'll have to get — and stay — healthy. In May, Fehr underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder — an injury that cost him 22 games last season and hampered him upon his return, leading to an output of just 10 goals in 52 games.

There's no target date for his return, but he continues to rehab in hopes of making his Jets debut sometime in November.

"The shoulder is coming along pretty well," said Fehr, who two off-seasons ago had surgery on both shoulders. "It's a bit of a slower recovery than the ones I've had in the past, but I'm pretty happy with the way it's coming along and I'm hoping to start shooting and hopefully practicing with the guys soon."

A self-described "huge" Jets fan while growing up in Winkler, Fehr counts Teemu Selanne's rookie-record-breaking 54th goal (and the famous pump-action celebration that ensued) in 1992-93 as his favourite memory.

Selanne finished that magical year with 76 goals, a feat no Jet will pull off this season. But Fehr sees a hard-working bunch that has a shot to bring playoff hockey back to Winnipeg for the first time since 1996 — just after Selanne was traded to Anaheim, and just before the franchise split for Phoenix.

He's also counting on a boost from Winnipeg's frothing fan base — one that's already fallen head over heels for a franchise that never won a single playoff game during its 11 years playing in front of a largely indifferent audience in Atlanta.

"I think the move to Winnipeg is going to be good for the whole team," Fehr said. "It's going to be a new atmosphere, new fans, and I'm hoping our team can build off the excitement around the city and get into the playoffs."