If the Winnipeg Jets need to learn how to play in the NHL’s Western Conference, 26-year-old Devin Setoguchi might be a good professor.
Acquired from the Minnesota Wild on July 5, 2013 by Jets General Manager, Kevin Cheveldayoff, Setoguchi has played his entire career in the West; spending four seasons with the San Jose Sharks, and the past two NHL campaigns with the Wild.
Setoguchi says the Western Conference is fairly similar to its Eastern counterpart.
“The game is a little different in the West. A lot of teams are a little bit lower scoring. I think the top 10 scorers last year were all from the East,” said Setoguchi. “In the West it’s a little tighter checking, but I mean it shouldn’t be any different. I think it’s nice with the re-alignment, as far as travel goes. I know in Minnesota last year we traveled something like 32,000 miles, and that was a lot.”
The Jets know a thing or two about travel. The team finished last season with 52,991 miles in the air. But it’s not travelling that Setoguchi thinks about. The owner of 222 points in 384 NHL games is excited to play in the MTS Centre.
“It’s definitely the loudest and hardest rink to play in for sure,” he said. “It’s hockey. That’s the exciting part. Our job is the main focus around the city, and that makes it fun.”
His excitement to play in Winnipeg says something, since Setoguchi has only visited the Manitoba capital a few times.
“My old junior hockey roommate lived here. I came out here for a weekend. That was probably seven years ago,” said Setoguchi. “I’m from a small town in Alberta called Taber with about 6,000 people. This is a big city for me either way.”
It was in his hometown of Taber that Setoguchi developed the shot he’s known for around the NHL.
“That was kind of my biggest thing growing up. My dad taught me to get the puck off my stick as quick as I can,” he said. “I just try to play an up and down game and get to the net, win puck battles, and try to score. That’s my game, to try to be a top six forward that plays a bit rugged, and use my speed to create some havoc.”
Changing cities like Setoguchi has for the second time in his professional career can be difficult. But the former member of the Saskatoon Blades and Prince George Cougars of the Western Hockey League says his move to Winnipeg was made easier thanks to a friendship he made at the 2005 World Under-18 Tournament.
“I played with Bryan Little in Under-18’s a couple times,” he said. “I skated with a couple guys in the summer in Minnesota. Anywhere you go, I think the hockey guys are the best group of guys. You get along with everybody, I’ve made some friends already.”
Playing with friends is what Setoguchi loves about the sport. He had a chance to do just that during the lockout last season when he became the first NHL player to sign an ECHL contract with the Ontario Reign, the Winnipeg Jets’ ECHL affiliate.
“I had a chance to play with three of my friends from home that were playing in the East coast there. I hadn’t played with them since Peewee or Bantam,” Setoguchi said with a smile. “So I got to go down and play with three of my good friends who I hadn’t played with in 9 or 10 years. That was something that was fun and I really enjoyed that a lot. Getting a chance to play with those guys when I was a kid, and now when I’m older and pro, it was fun.”
This year, however, Setoguchi will be playing against the friends he made in Minnesota, starting with the Jets first regular season game against the Wild October 10, at XCel Energy Center.
“It’s always fun to go back and play your friends,” he said. “Our main goal is to make the playoffs. When we play those guys it’s going to be fun, but it’s also going to be competitive. That’s kind of how it is.”
As for the new friends he now plays with in Winnipeg, Setoguchi is leaving it to the coaching staff to decide who his line mates will be.
“That’s what training camp is for. You come in and play and find the matches, and throughout the course of the year, things change quite a bit,” Setoguchi said. “There’s always injuries, always guys playing better. Just come in, play, and do what you can control. If you do that, you should be alright.”
“Sometimes you have to play. You can go out and play and do practices, but when you get in a game you get used to it. Finding chemistry is a hard thing to do. It shouldn’t be too hard when you have that many great players up front. Just a matter of mixing and matching and seeing what fits best.”
General Manager, Kevin Cheveldayoff, saw a great fit in Setoguchi and hopes he will find instant chemistry will his future linemates, whoever they may be. “He fits in well into the age demographic of our team,” said Chevy. “It’ll be up to Claude Noel to decide if he’s the guy to compliment Kane. He’s got a good shot and has scored at the NHL level. He’s a good skater and has a good mind for the game.”
Setoguchi expressed excitement in the possibility of playing with Evander Kane, but is happy to play anywhere and understands he must earn his ice-time, like everyone else. “You never know what will happen until you get the chance,” he said. “But if I do get that opportunity it would be pretty exciting, he’s a really special player and a really electric player.”
As far as individual goals go, Setoguchi says he doesn’t have anything specific, like besting his career high of 31 goals in a season, in mind.
“My goal is to come in, play the best hockey I can, and do what I can control,” he said. “Personal goals are personal goals, but this organization is trying to get into playoffs and trying to win hockey games. So that’s basically the main focus for everybody.”
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