Stapleton impressing with little ice time

Jets forward Tim Stapleton skates during the warmup prior to facing the Sabres at the MTS Centre in...

Jets forward Tim Stapleton skates during the warmup prior to facing the Sabres at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Man., Jan. 19, 2012. (BRIAN DONOGH/QMI Agency)

KEN WIEBE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:00 AM ET

WINNIPEG - Tim Stapleton feared his flight might be grounded before it even left the ground.

But after getting placed on — and clearing — waivers in early October, Stapleton has done his part to carve out a niche with the Winnipeg Jets and he’s already produced career highs in goals (seven) and points (14).

Not bad for a guy who thought he was either on his way to the farm team in Newfoundland or would be joining a new organization.

“When I got put on waivers this year, I didn’t know that the next day I was going to still be here,” said Stapleton, whose Jets face the Florida Panthers in a pivotal Southeast Division battle on Saturday night at MTS Centre. “I thought I was done.”

If you’re thinking complacency might soon be seeping into Stapleton’s game, you’re mistaken.

At 29, experience has taught him the next shift is never guaranteed.

“It’s been a lot of fun and hopefully, it keeps going,” said Stapleton. “I’m doing everything I can to stay in the league and I always feel like I’m in that situation. This is nothing new. It’s been like this my whole career. Last year (with the Atlanta Thrashers), I was up-and-down eight times.”

Stapleton shouldn’t be in danger of being shipped out to St. John’s anytime soon.

His seventh goal of the season came on the power play in Thursday’s 4-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres, a play that saw him come down from the left point and bang home a pass from Nik Antropov that changed direction off the stick of defender Jochen Hecht.

“He’s got speed, skill, great hockey sense, patience and the presence of mind to make the right play,” said Jets captain Andrew Ladd. “His shot is really underrated — he’s one of those guys who has a cannon, for his size.

“With the amount of ice time he gets, how productive he’s really been has been pretty impressive. He always has energy and he’s ready. He never seems to have that rust when he’s been sitting on the bench for a while.”

Stapleton began skating when he was three and blossomed early on the ice.

“I was probably better at 11 than I am right now,” he said. “Through my teens, I never grew and I had no plans to play after high school.”

He also loved basketball and still fancies himself a pretty good shooter, a belief supported by the fact Stapleton still holds the middle school record for draining nine three-pointers in a game.

Stapleton considered hanging up the blades at 17 before his best friend convinced him to try out for the Chicago Chill, a traveling AAA midget team.

“If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be playing,” said Stapleton, who joined the Green Bay Gamblers the next year and ultimately earned a scholarship to the University of Minnesota-Duluth, where he played four seasons and studied criminology.

The most important thing Stapleton has done this season is convince head coach Claude Noel he can be a valuable contributor.

“You know what, he’s a very useful player for us. He’s done a lot of different things,” said Noel. “We’ve put him on the power play, we’ve played him at centre, on the wing. What I really like about his game is that he’s a reliable player that plays with speed. You can put him in any situation and I have a lot of trust in the way that he plays. He understands the game and does a real good job. He has maturity in his game and he’s very consistent in his effort.”


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