Rutger McGroarty a hit with fans at Winnipeg Jets development camp

On Monday night, Winnipeg Jets Director of Player Development Jimmy Roy delivered a message to the 29 players attending the team’s development camp about the importance of developing relationships.

While Roy’s speech was focused on strengthening ties with potential future teammates, it’s pretty clear players have taken it upon themselves to extend that bonding exercise to the fans who have attended the first two days of on-ice sessions at the Hockey For All Centre.

One of the leading participants, forward Rutger McGroarty, has wasted no time endearing himself to young and old supporters of the hockey club.

The Jets’ 2022 first-round draft pick has been as noticeable for what he has been doing off the ice, as he has on it. And while there is the excitement of visiting Winnipeg for his first development camp- the 19-year-old right winger from Lincoln, Nebraska says signing autographs, posing for pictures and chatting with fans just comes naturally.

“I feel like that’s just who I am as a kid. It’s a little bit of both: it’s great to meet the fans, but that’s also who I am as a person,” explained McGroarty. “Whatever the community needs, it’s awesome.”

The University of Michigan forward has been all-in on getting to know his new buddies. In particular, McGroarty has seemed to fit like a glove with fellow first-rounder Colby Barlow. “He’s a beauty, he gives me some laughs.”

Barlow echoed those sentiments. “Yeah, we hit it off pretty early,” said the 18th overall pick of last week’s NHL entry draft in Nashville.

McGroarty wants to just soak everything up before heading back to Ann Arbor to build on what was an impressive freshman season with the Wolverines. “It was my first time just like really being on my own and I feel like it was awesome for me,” he said. “I mean, everyone has to grow up someday and I feel like next year I’m really going to hit the ground running and it’s going to be a big year for us.”

While McGroary and the other teenage future prospects attending the camp are at least a year or two away from spending the hockey season in Winnipeg, that won’t be the case for a group of six to eight players who will be competing for roster spots with the Manitoba Moose come the fall.

Twenty-year-old Russian forward Nikita Chibrikov is definitely a player of interest in that regard. Chibrikov signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Jets on May 1 following the completion of his KHL season with Moscow Spartak. “This camp is a very good step for me,” said the five-foot-nine and 160-pound forward who has already caught the attention of a few onlookers with his ability to shoot the puck. “My English is better than a month ago, so I learn English every day. I feel more comfortable here now.”

And having the chance to work one-on-one and in person with a player like Chibrikov is one of the many benefits of this camp, according to Roy. “He’s a player that we haven’t seen live for the last few years. It has been a lot of video and stuff,” Roy said. “Not only on the ice, but off the ice. How can he improve in the gym? Now we can see him and show him areas that he can improve on – whether it’s his foot speed or upper body strength – things to maintain a high endurance and overall conditioning. Those are just some personal things that you can help him with when he comes into a camp like this.”

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