By MARK HUNTER
Daily News Sports Reporter
With less than a week remaining before JC Lipon opens his first official NHL training camp, he admitted to being "a little nervous."
The freshly signed contract in his back pocket certainly will help.
Lipon signed a two-way deal with the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday, nearly two months to the day after the Jets selected him in the third round of the NHL draft. The deal, a three-year entry-level contract, has an average annual value of $700,000, according to a Jets news release.
Lipon, 20, is still eligible to return for a fifth season with the WHL's Kamloops Blazers, although his signing makes it a little less likely. It all depends on how he performs at the Jets' prospects camp, which opens Thursday and will include the Vancouver Canucks 2013 Young Stars Classic Tournament from Sept. 6-9.
Lipon attended a Jets' development camp this summer, but never has been to a preseason camp such as next week's.
"I'm a little nervous," admitted Lipon, a right-winger. "But I gained a lot of confidence from last season and from going through the world junior camp."
You bet he did.
Lipon, a late bloomer, enjoyed a 65-point season in 2011-12, after picking up a total of 34 points the previous two seasons. But he really came into his own in 2012-13, scoring 36 goals and assisting on 53 others in only 61 games.
Although he wasn't on anyone's radar heading into the season, he made Team Canada for the world junior championship in Ufa, Russia, as Canada finished fourth. It was a wild season that ended with the Jets calling his name in the third round — this, after he was passed over in the two previous drafts.
Now, he is signed, and facing the prospect of playing professionally next season. Making the Jets is a long-shot, but it's not unreasonable to think he could end up with their AHL affiliate, the St. John's IceCaps.
He has a lot on his mind — but having the contract signed already takes some of the stress away.
"Now I'm not worried about it, not that you should be worried about it," Lipon said. "But sometimes it does creep into your mind, so I'm glad it's done with."
The Jets will play three games at the Young Stars Classic — they will meet the San Jose Sharks' prospects on Sept. 6, the Edmonton Oilers' prospects on Sept. 7, and the Vancouver Canucks' prospects on Sept. 9.
The Jets open their main camp on Sept. 11.
No one really knows whether Lipon and Colin Smith will be back with the Blazers.
Smith, a 2012 draft pick of the Colorado Avalanche, also has signed an NHL contract, so could play in its system. Smith, 20, is off to Denver next week for rookie camp, which opens Sept. 8.
But both Smith and Lipon are eligible for another season with the Blazers.
“We’re moving forward without them,” Blazers head coach Dave Hunchak told The Daily News on Wednesday. “If we get them back, great.
“Our plan is to move forward without them. Those are big holes we need to plug somehow. Veteran guys need to step in.”
The Blazers have made Cole Kehler their backup goaltender.
Kamloops announced after Wednesday night's Blue-White intrasquad game that it had reassigned six players, including goaltenders Liam McLeod and Cameron Pateman. That leaves Taran Kozun, the starter, and Kehler to lead the team into the preseason.
Kehler, who is to turn 16 on Dec. 17, was selected by the Blazers in the sixth round, 123rd overall, in the 2012 bantam draft. He spent 2012-13 with the Altona Aces of the Manitoba High School League, going 2-14 with a 4.27 GAA and .864 save percentage.
McLeod, a Kamloops native, spent 2012-13 with the BCHL's Prince George Spruce Kings, while Pateman played with the midget AAA Regina Pat Canadians last season.
The Blazers also reassigned two 15-year-old players — defenceman Dawson Davidson of Moosomin, Sask., and Jermaine Loewen of Arborg, Man. Both players were third-round selections in May's bantam draft.
Cameron Trott, a 16-year-old defenceman from Burnaby, and Laramie Kostelansky, a 16-year-old forward from Fort McLeod, Alta., also were reassigned on Wednesday.
The moves leave the Blazers with 30 players on their roster, including Smith and Lipon.
Of the 28 players on the preseason roster, 17 are forwards, nine are defencemen and two are goaltenders. The Blazers likely will trim the roster to around 23 before the regular season starts on Sept. 20.
The Blazers also announced Thursday that forward Nathan Looysen, 17, has signed a standard WHL contract.
Looysen, from Saanichton, spent last season with the junior B Peninsula Panthers of the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League. He had 23 points, including 10 goals, in 27 games. The Blazers listed the 6-foot-1, 187-pounder in November.
The Blazers will open the preseason tonight against the Rockets in Kelowna.
Kamloops will be at home to the Vancouver Giants on Sunday, 6 p.m., at Interior Savings Centre. The Rockets and Giants will play in Ladner on Saturday night.
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