When it comes to Logan Stanley, the question of whether he was behind or ahead of schedule had become a hot-button topic for fans of the Winnipeg Jets.
From the moment the Jets shipped the 22nd and 36th picks to the Philadelphia Flyers to move up to 18th overall in the 2016 NHL draft to select the towering defenceman from the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League, it was a decision that left folks squarely in one corner or the other.
Depending on your point of view, the Jets had either taken a big swing on a player with potential that was going to require patience, or they’d made a colossal mistake.
These are the times we live in, where the hot takes flow freely and the rush to judgement is swift.
Despite the acknowledgement that Stanley was viewed as more of a longer-term project, the ‘what’s taking so long?’ crowd had already declared he was destined to be a bust, if he wasn’t one already.
Jets defenceman Josh Morrissey experienced something similar on his own development path after he was chosen 13th overall in 2013.
“I feel like we’re all on our own trajectories in terms of our development, and there isn’t maybe a set pattern. Even I experienced that as well,” said Morrissey.
“Being a first-rounder, you get drafted and it’s like, ‘I’m making the team this year, let’s go,’ as an 18-year-old. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. And then as a 19-year-old it’s the same thing; as a 20-year-old it’s the same thing.
“It took me until the fourth training camp to make that jump and so everyone’s on their own path.”
“(Stanley’s) really coming into his body, physically, and he moves so well for a big guy. With somebody that size, you don’t have to cover as much ice as somebody who’s quite a bit smaller. But he does it pretty well. And he has a long stick. He has a mean streak and he really understands the game.
“He’s just been continuing to get better and he loves the game, he loves to learn and it’s fun having in the room. I’m really enjoying watching his growth.”
By his own admission, Stanley wasn’t happy with how things went during his second pro season with the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League.
But rather than throw his hands up in the air in despair, he used the additional time during the pandemic wisely, doing the necessary things to get his body ready for his next opportunity to leave an impression.
As someone who watched Stanley play a pair of games late last season with the Moose, the improvements in his skating were evident from the first day of training camp.
That’s a testament to the work Stanley put in and that process is ongoing.
It’s far too early to suggest that Stanley is going to be this year’s version of Jansen Harkins, a guy who went from prospect on the periphery to NHL regular after flying mostly under the radar during his first two professional seasons.
It’s also far too early to suggest he won’t grow into one by next season.
When it comes to Stanley, it’s been impossible to fly under the radar.
Such is life when you stand six-foot-seven and your each and every move under the spotlight is widely documented.
Stanley’s frequent defence partner Nathan Beaulieu knows a thing or two about dealing with the pressure of being a first-round pick and playing in a passionate Canadian market and he’s been a good sounding board for the third-year pro.
Although social media wasn’t as prevalent as it is today, Beaulieu got an education on the importance of tuning out criticism (and praise) while going through plenty of ups-and-downs as a member of the Montreal Canadiens.
“I’ve had a lot of conversations with Logan,” said Beaulieu. “I learned pretty quickly and easily in Montreal, that wasn’t a tough thing to adapt to. Well, it was, but you learn. I’ve had a couple talks with younger players about it. It’s easy to get caught up in it, I know that first-hand.
“Especially being stapled to your hotel room for a lot of the time, there’s not much to do other than be scrolling through your phone. It definitely is a factor but the biggest thing is just trying to stay even keel.
“No matter what, you’re going to have people bashing you, no matter how well you play or how the team’s doing. Blocking out the outside noise is probably going to be the most difficult thing this year because there’s no one inside. It’s something that definitely needs to be monitored.”
Beaulieu has liked what he’s seen on the ice from Stanley so far.
“He’s obviously a big, young man,” said Beaulieu. “It’s not easy to step into this league and play and make an impact right away. I think he’s done that.
“Under the circumstances that we’ve had this year, with no exhibition games and no feeling-out process, I thought he stepped in and looked real mature. He’s steady and he’s used his size to his advantage. I think he’s done a good job so far.”
After Tucker Poolman landed on the COVID Protocol Related Absence list and Dylan DeMelo was away from the Jets after his wife gave birth to a baby, an expected opportunity to jump into the Jets lineup arrived in the second game of the season.
As an added bonus, Stanley’s NHL debut came in his home province, just over an hour away from his hometown against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The only thing missing was having friends and family members in the stands.
Of course, there have been some of the expected growing pains that come for a player with limited NHL experience, but Stanley has been steady since entering the Jets’ lineup.
His confidence is growing, he’s using his long reach to defend, he’s shown an ability to get up in the rush at times and he’s making a habit of getting his heavy shot through from the point (his 15 shots on goal are tops among Jets defencemen so far).
When you’re in a situation like Stanley’s, every day is an evaluation, especially with Poolman getting closer to a return and a stable of top prospects like Ville Heinola and Dylan Samberg on guard waiting patiently for their opportunity.
“I’ve just got to keep using my size and playing good defence,” said Stanley.
“We’ve got good power-play and skill guys to play some offence, so my job is to play defence and just keep getting better at that and try to be a physical presence out there.”
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