March 13, 2012
Jets' Little goes long way
By Ken Wiebe, QMI Agency
It is a job most people in his profession crave and entails an enormous amount of responsibility.
To be a top-line centre is something Bryan Little always wanted to be and although he's not putting up eye-popping numbers, his development has continued in his first season with the Winnipeg Jets and he's become more comfortable in the role.
Little has essentially spent the entire season anchoring the top line and since the NHL All-star break, is enjoying a great deal of success with linemates Blake Wheeler and captain Andrew Ladd.
"We don't really like to talk about first and second lines and stuff like that, but my average minutes are up more than any other year," said Little, who has 19 goals and 38 points to sit sixth in team scoring. "I've learned to adjust to the role. I'm not that guy who's going to go out there and score 40, 50 goals but I try to do my best and try to get the job done -- whether that is shutting other lines down or trying to chip in on offence."
Little, 24, tops all Jets' forwards in average ice time per game (20:08) and leads the team with six game-winning goals.
"He's a great two-way player and if you're going to be playing 20-plus minutes every night, you're going to have to be able to play both ways," said Wheeler. "We create a lot of offence from coming back and being responsible defensively, creating turnovers and going the other way.
"He's really fast as well and he's not one dimensional. He can pass and score. You roll that into one package and that makes for a pretty good centreman."
Big things were expected of Little when he was chosen 12th overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft by the Atlanta Thrashers.
Little was a top point-getter with the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League, twice eclipsing 40 goals and 100 points and helped Team Canada win a gold medal at the 2007 World Junior Hockey Championship in Leksand, Sweden.
He got his first taste of the pros with the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League in the spring of 2007 on an amateur tryout contract before splitting the next season between the minors and the Thrashers.
Despite suiting up in 48 NHL games that season, Little was sent to the Wolves for a playoff push and helped them capture the Calder Cup, putting up eight goals and 13 points in 24 games.
That experience served Little well as he erupted for a career-high 31 goals and 51 points in 79 games the following season with the Thrashers.
In the next two seasons, Little slipped to 13 goals and 34 points and 18 goals and 48 points but the move to a hockey-mad Canadian market seems to have rejuvenated him.
"He's a smart player and he's been consistent all year, but when things go well, it's his speed that jumps off the map," said Jets head coach Claude Noel, who first saw Little as the bench boss of the Milwaukee Admirals in the AHL. "That's really what jumps out about him. I remember coaching against him and he was a reliable guy, an honest player. He's got the same game. When you rate his game, it's pretty much the same every game. And he's really trustworthy in the D-zone. You can put him anywhere."
The Jets are back in action on Wednesday against the Dallas Stars.