A.J. Jenks was one of the most formidable opponents the Komets ever faced. Now they'll see what it's like to have him on their side.
Jenks, who played for played the archrival Toledo Walleye the last five seasons, signed today with the Komets.
“Well, I think he's a player you absolutely hate to play against,” Komets coach Ben Boudreau said. “You have to come up with an entire game plan to circumvent what he's capable of doing. When a player garners that much attention in your preparation, you know that you'd love to have him on your team. He's one of those guys you hate to play against but would love to play with.”
Fort Wayne management got the blessing of some of the Komets' players before the signing, namely Shawn Szydlowski, who famously suffered a season-ending knee injury from a Jenks hit in the 2016 playoffs.
“A guy like Szyd, who has put his time in here, deserved the opportunity to have his piece said. Ultimately, we'll make the final determination, but he has blessed it. He thinks he makes our team better,” Boudreau said.
“That's why we're confident. Teammates that have played against this guy for years know he's going to be a quality addition and are going to welcome him with open arms, so we're really excited about that.”
Lost in the shuffle of the Szydlowski vs. Jenks rivalry was that they are both from Michigan, have known one another for years and have been friends.
“We've gone back and forth a little bit recently, and are both really excited to finally get a chance to play together and see what kind of damage we can do on the same side,” Jenks said.
Jenks, 29, has played 190 games in the higher-level American Hockey League, totaling 20 goals, 48 points and 129 penalty minutes. In 298 ECHL games, he has accrued 113 goals, 226 points and 292 penalty minutes.
“I really just want to bring a winning mentality,” Jenks said. “It's my No. 1 goal, whenever I step on the ice, to do whatever I can to help the team win. I consider myself to be a strong two-way player, to play a 200-foot game, to play hard at both ends of the ice. I'm a guy that brings everything I have, every night.”
Last season, Jenks had 19 goals, 37 points and 59 penalty minutes in 47 games, then added six goals, 12 points and 40 penalty minutes in 23 games as the Walleye reached the Kelly Cup finals.
The Walleye opted not to try and re-sign him as one of their four veteran players.
“I had a good run (in Toledo). Five years is a long time,” Jenks said. “At the same time, I'm really excited for a change of scenery, new things, and it's just an exciting beginning with the Komets.”
The Komets, who have signed 18 players for the upcoming season, have two veterans -- Jenks and Szydlowski -- and Jenks is expected to shoulder some of the leadership along with players such as Brady Shaw and Jason Binkley.
“I would imagine so, and I would expect that,” Jenks said. “I've had a lot of experience over the years and some experience in leadership positions, as well, and it's something I can excel in and I can bring to the team that will definitely help, especially with a new group and a new culture coming in.”
Jenks hasn't played more than 53 regular-season games during the last three seasons and has battled through some tough injuries in his career, including to his knee and head, issues that had the Komets treading carefully before the signing.
“The history is there; I've had some injuries,” Jenks said. “Fortunately, most of them have been kind of accidental things. It's not like I've missed a whole lot of games with preventable things like soft-tissue injuries that are usually from a lack of preparation or something like that. I really feel with my physical therapy, I should be on the right track and should be good to go for having a long, strong, healthy season.”
Boudreau said of the injury history: “It's something to be aware of, there's no question about that, but we've done our due diligence all summer. This isn't an overnight signing. It's been months in the works. We've had our doctors look at him, had our trainers look at him, and we've done all the work that we need to do to make sure we're comfortable with this signing. It's not a (public relations) piece; he's going to be a capable kid who's going to contribute.”