Drew Stafford fitting in nicely with Winnipeg Jets during stretch run

ST. LOUIS — With 10 games under his belt with his new club, Drew Stafford has found a comfort level after being traded for the first time in his NHL career.

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While defenceman Tyler Myers has been receiving a lot of attention – and rightfully so, given his contribution on the back end since the blockbuster deal with the Buffalo Sabres - Stafford has quietly put together a strong start to his time with the Winnipeg Jets as well.

“It’s been great,” said Stafford. “As a team, we’ve found some pretty good success so far, played some pretty tight games and it’s always fun to play in some of those big games where every point matters. To be part of that is very exciting for me.”

The Jets continue a four-game road trip against the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday at Scottrade Center.

With a goal and an assist in Saturday’s 3-1 victory over the Nashville Predators, Stafford has three goals and five points in 10 games with the Jets.

“Individually, I’ve been able to chip in and produce here and there as well, that always helps when you’re contributing to a winning effort,” said Stafford, who was chosen 13th overall by the Sabres in the 2004 NHL Draft. “I’m going to try and keep it rolling. It’s been pretty smooth so far, I give credit to the rest of the guys for making it pretty seamless. The coaching staff has been helpful. It’s an easy game when everybody is working hard and having fun.”

Stafford’s father Gordie played pro hockey, spending parts of six seasons with the Milwaukee Admirals of the International Hockey League and parts of two seasons with the Wichita Wind of the Central Hockey League, where one of his teammates was Jets assistant coach Charlie Huddy.

Huddy would go on to play for the Edmonton Oilers, where Gordie Stafford’s brother and Drew’s uncle Barrie, was the long-time head equipment manager.

That Oilers connection would be a prominent one for Drew Stafford, who was put to work in the dressing room by Barrie. That also meant he got to rub shoulders with the likes of Ryan Smyth and Mike Grier, who would later be a teammate with the Sabres.

“I’ve been pretty blessed to be part of a hockey family growing up,” said Stafford. “With my uncle being part of the Oilers for such a long time, I was able to be a part of an NHL locker room from a pretty early age. That helps as you grow up and hockey becomes a little more serious in your life. I was extremely thankful and grateful to have that as a young kid and be exposed to it.”

Having a father who played professionally is a great resource, but Drew said Gordie (who is the head coach of the girls prep team at Shattuck-St. Mary’s Academy) never pushed him to follow in his footsteps.

“I played every sport growing up, I was an active kid and (his passion for hockey) kind of came naturally for me,” said the 29-year-old Stafford. “My parents never forced anything on me. I would play hockey in winter, but when summer rolled on, it was baseball, football and golf. They just wanted to make sure I was having fun, no matter what I was doing.”

Stafford, who is currently skating on a line with Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler, has also made a strong impression on Jets head coach Paul Maurice.

“He’s played his best hockey in the biggest of the games,” said Maurice. “He has the ability to be strong on the puck and we’ve seen it. I’m really pleased with that.”

Stafford’s strength on the puck isn’t the only thing his teammates have noticed about him.

“He’s got a tremendous amount of skill offensively and he’s got an under-rated work ethic,” said Jets centre Adam Lowry. “We knew coming in that he was going to bring some skill and bolster our offence, he had always been a point producer in this league, but it’s his attention to detail and his work ethic that really complements the players he’s been playing with.

“He’s had a great impact on our lineup.”

Stafford is a pending unrestricted free agent on July 1, so it will be interesting to see if he’s just going to be a rental player or if he might stick around a little longer on a new contract.

But that’s a discussion for another day.

With nine NHL seasons under his belt, Stafford realizes the only thing he needs to worry about is doing his part to see if he can help propel the Jets into the playoffs.

With a strong finish to the campaign, the future will take care of itself.


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