WINNIPEG - Eric Fehr finally showed what he can do at a time when the Winnipeg Jets needed it most.
The big right-winger has been sitting idle for much of the season after recovering from surgery to repair a damaged shoulder. But with the Jets fighting for a playoff spot, Fehr scored the go-ahead goal Wednesday in a 5-2 victory over Dallas.
That put the spotlight firmly on the Winkler, Man., native.
"It definitely felt good," said Fehr.
Coach Claude Noel and the Jets have been patient with Fehr after trading away a fourth-round draft pick and minor-league player to acquire him from Washington last July.
The Jets knew it would take time before he was back to full strength, but Fehr's progress after he returned six weeks into the season appeared a little slower than expected.
The unimpressive stats—one goal and one assist in 33 games—led Noel to challenge Fehr to earn more ice time.
Fehr, who played all his junior hockey in Manitoba, didn't get discouraged. When Chris Thorburn was injured last week against Calgary, Fehr was given his shot.
"I've been working hard while I've been out, just trying to stay in shape and be ready to play whenever they call upon me," he said.
Fehr was drafted 18th overall by the Capitals in 2003, and in the 2009-'10 season rewarded their faith with 21 goals and 18 assists in 69 games. But injuries limited his playing time and his success was short-lived.
Thorburn's linemate Tanner Glass was happy to see Fehr get the chance to fill in on the checking line centred by Jim Slater.
"He's got a great shot, he's got a nose for the net," said Glass. "He's a big guy too, he's got good hands."
Fehr's size is just about an equal replacement for Thorburn. At six foot four and 212 pounds he's nearly even to Thorburn's muscular 6-3, 230-pound frame, although Fehr hasn't used that size as much as he sometimes could.
Slater has also been impressed by Fehr's attitude.
"Every player has been in that situation where they've been healthy scratches and you've got to work twice as hard to keep your body ready because anything can happen," he said.
"(Fehr has) been a great professional about it, really positive. He comes to the rink every day and works really hard."
If he can keep scoring, Fehr may not be a permanent member of the fourth line. Noel said he sees Fehr more as a scorer, but that to move up he will have to work with Glass and Slater.
The spotlight is only going to get brighter. Winnipeg hosts eighth-place Washington on Friday, and the Jets need to close the four-point gap to improve their playoff hopes.
The good news for Fehr is Noel saw signs of progress Wednesday night.
"He had some other good chances in the game," said Noel. "I thought he played with some spirit and battled on the boards and fit in good with the line."