Logan Stanley is a towering six feet, seven inches tall, and that's before he straps on skates. He possesses the kind of size that demands attention every time he walks into a room.
But now Stanley, the Winnipeg Jets rookie defenceman, is starting to turn heads every time he takes the ice — and it's not just his big frame that's drawing the spotlight.
"Got to meet him last year when I came here for training camp and obviously the first thing that jumped out is his size," fellow defenceman Neal Pionk said after Thursday's practice.
"But then when he comes on the team and you get to know him a little bit, I think what's underrated is his hockey IQ. He's a heck of a player and you can see the development that he's been making throughout the year."
While sturdy all season as he worked his way into the lineup, Stanley has never been more noticeable than what he displayed during the Jets' opening-round series sweep against the Edmonton Oilers.
The 23-year-old didn't exactly rack up the ice time, averaging around 16 minutes per game while playing on the third pairing, alongside Tucker Poolman. But he's certainly been effective, chipping in an assist on the game-clinching goal in a pivotal Game 1 victory and contributing to what's been an effective penalty kill through four playoff games.
Stanley described his first taste of NHL playoff hockey as "fun", while lamenting the fact there were no fans to take in the excitement he felt. He dove deeper into his thoughts when asked about his role with the team, how he went from being somewhat of a question mark in training camp to being an easy pick for head coach Paul Maurice to crack the top-6 in the post-season, when the stakes are at its highest.
"It obviously was my goal to get in the lineup and be a part of this team this year. That was something I was thinking about coming into camp, but we had a lot of bodies at first in training camp," Stanley said. "We had eight guys on one-way deals. I just wanted to come in and work hard and see what I could do, and it was definitely nice to get in some games this year and it’s definitely nice to try and help the team win in the playoffs."
Indeed, it was a busy blue line for the Jets early in the season. With Josh Morrissey and Tucker Poolman already under contract, and Dylan DeMelo and Nathan Beaulieu re-signing, as well as Derek Forbort inking as a free agent in the offseason, there seemed to be little room for Stanley. But thanks to injuries to Beaulieu and later Poolman, as well as his own consistent play, he carved out a significant role for his first season, playing 37 of 56 regular-season games.
Then came a decision. By the start of playoffs, with Poolman back and Jordie Benn brought in at the trade deadline to add experience, Maurice had two spots and three players. Many assumed Stanley would be the odd man out, given Maurice's affinity to play veteran players over rookies.
But, as it turns out, Stanley's inclusion for Game 1 was never in doubt. Maurice had already told him with three games remaining in the regular season that he would start the playoffs. He just had to earn it the rest of the way, much like he did all year.
"Logan was a guy that came back in noticeably better shape and condition. And because of that, he’s faster," Maurice said. "So, when you get a guy that big and he can get up to speed, then that piques your interest because we’ve always known that he had a good set of hands on him, he can make plays, and get the puck to the net. I thought it would be about foot speed for him and he kind of got himself in good enough shape that that’s not in question, to the point where he looks powerful and strong and fast at times. And then he gets his first game in Toronto and all the milestones that you have to hit to keep playing and he just kept hitting those."
To make the lineup on defence you have to be able to play more than even-strength. Stanley isn't ready for a role on the power play, at least not yet, but his big body and long stick make him an asset on the penalty kill. He can clear the front of the net as well as any of his teammates, and his hockey smarts allow him to anticipate the play, either by pouncing on a loose puck or getting his stick into passing lanes.
While he possesses a quiet confidence, he certainly has the respect from his teammates. The raw emotion that you can see on his face in games has only furthered his place on the team. It's that kind of confidence on the ice that's helped him mesh with his teammates off of it.
"He’s an incredible guy in that locker room. He’s funny. He brings a lot to this team," Jets forward Nikolaj Ehlers said. "He’s a guy that will talk to you about the game, about the plays, and do better next time. Having a guy like him on the team who is a huge presence out there, he plays hard, blocks shots, does all the little things right."
Stanley is acutely aware that his size is his greatest asset, but he takes pride in his smart decision making. While his long reach and heavy frame allow him to make plays, it's his hockey IQ that he depends on when deciding when and where the right time is to attack.
"It started when I was younger. I was always a bigger kid and couldn't really move around that well, so I relied on that a lot when I was younger," he said. "It's helped me now that my feet have caught up a little bit, and I'm still able to try and make some plays and hang on to the puck sometimes. So, I think it started when I was younger, but I think it's also confidence in your abilities and just going out and trying to make plays sometimes."
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.