By Scott Billeck
Many hockey fans in Winnipeg bemoaned the fact that their beloved Jets decided not to give Mark Scheifele a uniform for the lockout-shortened 2013 season..
Fans, including myself, thought the correct decision for the Jets brass was to put the Barrie Colts sensation on the NHL team’s roster and allow to put 48 games under his belt.
Many fans weren’t happy seeing the kid go down and understandably so. After all, the Jets lacked a real playmaking centre and please don’t tell me you thought Olli Jokinen would fit the bill.
The great thing about being a fan is basking in your own smug glory when your opinion turns out to be correct or denying you ever said anything when your opinion was flat out wrong.
The fact is, I and for that matter, most Jets fans, had it wrong with Scheifele. And we were wrong about the Jets organization as a whole.
The one important thing to remember about the Jets is where they came from. We can’t forget the past. Players like Alexander Burmistrov, Zach Bogosian, and to a lesser extent, Evander Kane were ushered into the National Hockey League far too soon by the Atlanta Thrashers organization. Don Waddel had little choice – these players were immediate top-six forwards, or top-four defensemen. It just made sense. Granted, players were rushed into the NHL lineup, but the Thrashers really had no other choice.
It is to that point — rushing young players onto the NHL roster — that I have now converted to the Kevin Cheveldayoff side. The Jets General Manager no doubt saw the problems in Atlanta. The team’s opwner, Mark Chipman would have definitely have seen those problems.
Since Winnipeg took Scheifele seventh overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, the young man has obviously grown playing in junior. The numbers bear it out. Scheifele’s production has continued to grow, some would even say soar — yeah I went there, sue me.
According to hockeydb.com, in his draft-eligible year, he produced at a rate of 1.14 points per game. After being sent down to the OHL’s Barrie Colts after a short stint with the Jets in their inaugural season in Winnipeg, Scheifele upped that rate to 1.34 PPG. This past season, Scheifele’s best to date with the Colts, he recorded an impressive 1.76 PPG.
His production’s steady rise since his draft year has put him in some elite company. Current NHLers Claude Giroux, Ryan Getzlaf, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, and Logan Couture all saw healthy increases in their production while in junior. A few on that list are now hovering at a point per game pace at the NHL level, and the others aren’t far behind.
Needless to say, Scheifele has done everything he needed to do at the junior level to inspire confidence in the Jets faithful, especially among that group of fans who would have rather seen him play at the MTS Centre this year.
His development, under former Jets great Dale Hawerchuk, has been remarkable. His ability to defy the adversity that comes with being sent down two years in a row will only harden his resolve to excel at the NHL level. Most importantly, Scheifele will become an example as to how the Jets will develop their prospects in the years to come.
And that’s something on which all fans will agree.
Now let’s just hope concussions aren’t a part of his future.