There was the 2016-17 contract impasse that lasted into November, the clear desire not to remain in Winnipeg upon reaching unrestricted free agency, the sense he was always destined to head to New York.
And so when Jacob Trouba says publicly as he did on Monday he doesn’t know what kind of reception to expect upon his return to Manitoba with the Rangers on Tuesday, well, he almost assuredly does.
Jaromir Jagr getting booed mercilessly in Washington every time he touched the puck as a Ranger is probably a pretty good place to start.
“I’m sure it’s not going to be the warmest homecoming for him,” said David Quinn, who met with the defenseman before Monday’s practice. “That came up. I think he’s going to embrace it.”
Trouba played the first six seasons and 408 games of his NHL career with the Jets after having been the ninth-overall selection in the 2012 entry draft before he was traded to the Rangers in June, a year ahead of unrestricted free agency, in exchange for Neal Pionk and the 20th pick in the draft that had previously been bartered away in the Kevin Hayes deadline deal.
“I haven’t really thought a lot about it,” the defenseman, who will turn 26 on Feb. 26, said of his return. “Whatever [the reception] is, I’ll go with it and have fun with it. I honestly haven’t played it up too much in my own head.”
It has, predictably, been a year of adjustment both on and off the ice for the defenseman, who is in the first season of a seven-year deal worth $8 million per. He’s not living in the prairies now.
Trouba actually mentioned “the tall buildings” when asked about life in New York after years in a much smaller locale. No kidding. But he stressed he’s never before lived in a big city.
“It’s not just a Winnipeg thing, but a new thing for me in general life,” Trouba said. “I’ve never lived in a small apartment, walking everywhere, so many more people — all that kind of stuff is new.”
The adjustments have manifested on the ice through a first 54 games in which the first-pair right defenseman has been erratic. He plays with intensity and a physical edge while eating major minutes against the opposition’s top units, but Trouba has also been mistake-prone in adapting from one system to another and one set of teammates to another.
“I’ve been trying to find my way a little bit,” Trouba said. “Knowing your teammates’ tendencies is such an important part of the game, and now I’m trying to learn 20 at a time. It’s been challenging at times, that’s for sure.”
The Blueshirts will enter Tuesday’s match at least nine points out of a playoff spot with the Islanders-Caps and Flyers-Panthers games Monday. With five of the next six and eight of the next 10 on the road, the Rangers will need Trouba (and partner Brady Skjei) to raise his level.
“We had a long conversation this morning and he’s a little bit frustrated with himself,” Quinn said. “The thing I like about him, he’s real honest about his [self] evaluation. I think sometimes we lose sight of the pressure that maybe players might put on themselves. I thought he was going through a really good stretch and, as can happen through the course of an 82-game season, you have peaks and valleys.
“I thought we had a really good conversation. He did a lot of talking about how he’s feeling and things he needs to get better at. Too often a player of his magnitude tries to do too much. One of the things that can happen is that he can overthink things. Mistakes are going to happen, but I think he takes mistakes to heart, and then he goes out and tries to do a little bit more to compensate that’s been made, and as we all know, no one has ever played a mistake-free hockey game.
“So I think he’s embracing that mindset and I’m looking forward to watching him [in Winnipeg].”
Brendan Lemieux is also making his initial return to Winnipeg, dealt at last year’s deadline in the Hayes deal.
“I owe a lot to that organization, from the owner straight through,” Lemieux said. “I love being in New York and being a Ranger, but I’m very appreciative to the Jets for all the things they did to help me out.
“It’s going to be fun. I have a lot of friends there. I’m excited.”