Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

Sami Niku of the Jets skates against the Canadiens in his first NHL game on April 3, 2018.Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

Captain Blake Wheeler isn’t too worried if rookie defenceman Sami Niku has to fill a hole in the Winnipeg Jets’ depleted defence.

Niku was called up from the Manitoba Moose on Thursday, where he posted 54 points in 76 regular-season games and was named American Hockey League defenceman of the year.

The 21-year-old Finnish native could make his NHL playoff debut in Friday’s Game 5 against the Minnesota Wild as a replacement for suspended blueliner Josh Morrissey.

The Jets lead the best-of-seven series 3-1 and could win their Western Conference quarter-final at home in front of 15,000 white-clad fans.

Niku made a great impression on Jets players in his first regular-season NHL game against the Montreal Canadiens April 3.

“Sami Niku has played one game in the NHL and he scored one goal,” Wheeler said with a smile when asked what he expects if Niku plays.

The Jets were a loose bunch after practice on Thursday, a day after Morrissey was given a one-game suspension for cross-checking Wild centre Eric Staal in the neck during the Jets’ 2-0 victory Tuesday.

Morrissey practised with the team but wasn’t available for comment. Head coach Paul Maurice said he hadn’t talked to the second-year defenceman, but he appeared to be taking his suspension in stride.

“He showed up smiling today, that’s his normal routine,” Maurice said.

The absence of the steady Morrissey, who’s on the top pairing with Jacob Trouba, is being viewed as another test for a team that has overcome some adversity because of missing players.

“We’re used to it,” Maurice said. “It doesn’t cause a ripple in there when a guy goes down or a guy goes out. We’ve had players come in and be good … all of the other guys who stayed in our lineup all year have kind of taken up that slack, but there’s no doubt you miss a guy like Josh.”

The Jets already lost blueliner Tyler Myers to a lower-body injury in Game 3. He didn’t skate Thursday and neither did injured defencemen Toby Enstrom and Dmitry Kulikov.

Maurice said he wasn’t ruling anybody out when asked specifically about Myers’s status for Friday’s game.

Veteran forward Bryan Little said the team is just focusing on ending the series no matter who’s playing.

“We don’t want to give [the Wild] any life or any hope,” Little said. “We want to do it [Friday] and we want to come out hard against them.”

Niku, meanwhile, is eager to contribute if he’s tapped to play.

Interact with The Globe