Defence-depleted Jets call up rookie Sami Niku for Friday's Game 5
21-year-old Finnish native posted 54 points in minors this season
Captain Blake Wheeler isn't too worried if rookie defenceman Sami Niku fills a hole in the Winnipeg Jets' depleted defence.
Niku was called up from the Manitoba Moose on Thursday, where he posted 54 points in 76 regular-season games and was named American Hockey League defenceman of the year.
The 21-year-old Finnish native could make his NHL playoff debut in Friday's Game 5 against the Minnesota Wild as a replacement for suspended blue-liner Josh Morrissey.
The Jets lead the best-of-seven series 3-1 and could win the Western Conference quarter-final at home in front of 15,000 white-clad fans.
Niku made a great impression on Jets players in his first regular-season NHL game against the Montreal Canadiens April 3.
"Sami Niku has played one game in the NHL and he scored one goal," Wheeler said with a smile when asked what he expects if Niku plays.
Jets loose despite Morrissey suspension
The Jets were a loose bunch after practice Thursday, a day after Morrissey was given a one-game suspension for cross-checking Wild centre Eric Staal in the neck during the Jets' 2-0 victory Tuesday.
Morrissey practised with the team but wasn't available for comment. Head coach Paul Maurice said he hadn't talked to the second-year defenceman, but he appeared to be taking his suspension fine.
"He showed up smiling today, that's his normal routine," Maurice said.
The absence of the steady Morrissey, who's on the top pairing with Jacob Trouba, is being viewed as another test for a team that has overcome some adversity because of missing players.
"We're used to it," Maurice said. "It doesn't cause a ripple in there when a guy goes down or a guy goes out. We've had players come in and be good ... all of the other guys who stayed in our lineup all year have kind of taken up that slack, but there's no doubt you miss a guy like Josh."
Myers, Enstrom, Kulikov not practising
The Jets already lost blue-liner Tyler Myers to a lower-body injury in Game 3. He didn't skate Thursday and neither did injured defencemen Toby Enstrom and Dmitry Kulikov.
Maurice said he wasn't ruling anybody out when asked specifically about Myers' status for Friday's game.
Veteran forward Bryan Little said the team is just focusing on ending the series no matter who's playing.
"We don't want to give [the Wild] any life or any hope," Little said. "We want to do it [Friday] and we want to come out hard against them."
Niku wants to contribute if he's tapped to play.
"I'm pretty confident," said the offensive-minded defenceman, who notched 16 goals for the AHL playoff-bound Moose. "I know I can play here. It's good to know."
Fellow Finn Patrik Laine, who turned 20 on Thursday, has been spending time with Niku.
"He's always eating at my place and I'm getting to know him," he said. "He's a good kid."
The talented winger had no doubt Niku could fit in.
"He has one game, one goal, so you have to think he's going to score if he plays," Laine said.
Wild making changes to D
The Wild practised in Minnesota on Thursday. Head coach Bruce Boudreau replaced rookie defenceman Carson Soucy with Ryan Murphy and added forward Kyle Rau.
"We just thought that we didn't score any goals last game and [Murphy's] a really good puck mover," Boudreau said.
His players are still confident heading into what could be their last game of the season.
"We are ready," forward Nino Niederreiter said. "We know what it takes to get that win [and] how important it is. Everyone is super excited about it."