Eric Fehr’s one season as a Winnipeg Jet was ultimately one to forget. With the Capitals visiting the MTS Centre for the first time Saturday, Fehr hopes his return to the Manitoba capital is one to remember.
“It’s obviously a real interesting feeling, going back to my hometown and [facing] the team that I played for last year,” Fehr said Friday as the Capitals prepared for their second of five meetings this season against the Jets.
“You’ve got to try to look at it like just another game but it obviously doesn’t feel like one.”
The Capitals traded Fehr to the Jets in July 2011, parting ways at the time with their first-round selection from the 2003 NHL Draft.
Injuries though kept Fehr from suiting up in the Jets’ much hyped Season Opener, and the Manitoba-native didn’t make his season debut until mid-November. By then the Jets were already on the outside of a playoff position and the slow start proved too much to overcome.
As for Fehr, the excitement of playing in front of friends and family and being part of the NHL’s return to Winnipeg was eventually replaced by disappointment.
Fehr would play just 35 games with the Jets and finished with career-lows across the board with two goals and three points.
“Obviously last year I wasn’t feeling my best and it showed,” said Fehr, who battled shoulder injuries for much of the season.
“I want to show them what I can do. Definitely I want to show them that that wasn’t what I was like last year and if it helps our team win [Saturday] that would be great.”
Fehr acknowledged that it will be tough to fulfill all of his ticket requests for Saturday’s matinee at the NHL’s smallest arena. The MTS Centre seats just over 15,000 fans and provides the Jets will one of the league’s best home-ice advantages.
“It’s a tough building to play in. They like to get on other teams’ top players so I’m guessing Ovi is going to be taking some heat from the fans. It’s obviously exciting to play in, it’s going to be different playing on the other side but it’s going to be a fun game.”
The Jets did not extend a qualifying offer to Fehr last offseason, making him an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career.
It took a successful 21-game stint in Finland’s SM-liiga (13 goals and 25 points with HPK Hameenlinna) during the work stoppage to convince general managers that he could produce again in the NHL.
“It gave me a good opportunity to get some ice time and get some good touches,” Fehr said of his European experience.
“I think playing third and fourth line minutes in the NHL for a number of years in a row, it’s tough to feel confident in your abilities and it’s tough to really see the ice well. So the opportunity to go to Finland and to play on the power play and to play on the bigger ice helped me all around to become a bit more offensive and get that confidence back.”
Fehr signed with the Capitals in mid-January and has since made the most of his opportunity in Washington. The 27-year-old began the NHL season as a healthy scratch but has gradually worked his way up the Caps’ lineup. He enters Saturday’s game as the Capitals’ second-line left winger with four goals and seven points in his last eight games.
Despite his personal growth this season, Fehr is more interested in seeing the Capitals reverse course after a sluggish start to the abbreviated 48-game season.
The Capitals enter Saturday’s game in Winnipeg in last place in the Southeast Division, six points behind the division-leading Jets and Carolina Hurricanes.
“They’ve got some good players- they’ve got a lot of good skilled players on their team,” Fehr said of the Jets.
“Last year I think it was a lot of the change coming from Atlanta that took a toll on the team early. That team was a lot like [the Capitals] this year where they got off to a bit of slow start and it’s tough to come back from that. So hopefully we can change that a little bit and get back into it, but starts are key and it’s tough to come back from holes that you dig.”