Mark Scheifele was a surprise the day he was drafted by the Winnipeg Jets. He might be a surprise again if he makes this Jets lineup.
Friday night, as the Jets played brilliantly in a 4-2 win over the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins, Scheifele was watching the game in a private booth in the Jets press box. After playing three of the Jets first four games, Scheifele remains a bit of a mystery. Benched on Friday night against a very good Penguins team, reporters wondered if Scheifele would soon be dispatched to the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League.
“I really like Mark Scheifele, I think everyone in the organization really likes him, but sometimes you have to do some things you believe will be best for your team and for the player,” said Jets head coach Claude Noel. “I know we have some people upstairs who want things to happen quickly for Mark, but I’m not one of them. I just want the best for the young player and for the team we put on the ice.”
Scheifele, who is still just 19, impressed all of the Jets scouts as well as the coaching staff with his play in the Young Stars Tournament in Penticton, B.C., last year, with his play in the OHL last season and his play in two world junior championships. There is a belief within the organization that he will make a good NHL player one day. That’s why they made him their No. 1 draft in 2012 and their No. 1 draft pick in franchise history.
But he’s still of junior age and unless he lights it up – soon – he’ll be headed back to Barrie. He wants to stay, but going to Barrie is not a bad thing.
“I hope I make the team, that’s the plan,” Scheifele said during training camp. “I have to show them (the Jets brass) that my body’s ready to play at this level. I have to show the coaches that I can play with and through the older guys.
“I definitely understand the situation I’m in. I have to be a top four or top six forward to make this team and that’s going to be hard, I know that. But I want to be here and I want to play here so it’s up to me to show everyone that I’m capable of playing at this level.”
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At the Xcel Energy Centre in St. Paul, Minn., on Friday evening, June 24, 2011, Kevin Cheveldayoff, general manager of the Winnipeg Jets made an announcement that was met with surprise and silence: “The Winnipeg Jets are proud to select, from the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League, Mark Scheifele.”
The response on the TSN telecast was a quiet, “Wow,” from host Gord Miller. The crowd at the Xcel Energy Centre went almost completely silent. A player ranked No. 16 in North America in Central Scouting, had suddenly moved into the Top 10. However, he was a young forward who had played for one of the greatest Jets of all time, Barrie Colts head coach, Dale Hawerchuk.
“This is something that’s really exciting,” Scheifele said that evening. “I’ve heard so many stories about Winnipeg from Dale. Dale’s talked to me a lot about that. I’m really excited to go to Winnipeg. It’s going to be a great place. I’ve heard great stories and I know it’s a great hockey town. I’m just so excited. I’m going to work even harder just to make that team.”
So why Scheifele? Why a guy who will not play in the NHL until, likely, the 2013-2014 season and was rated behind a handful of other players?
“We’ve done our due diligence on him and we found a lot of really good things to like,” Cheveldayoff told TSN that night. “The scouts were very emphatic about his play and how far he’s come and they believe if his progression stays on the same track that we could have a real gem here. It’s exciting. One of the all-time great Jets is Mark’s coach in Barrie and we spent a lot of time talking with him, Dale Hawerchuk, and he had a nothing but unbelievable things to say so it’s a great time for our franchise.”
Based on the way he’s played at the NHL level so far, it will be important that both Scheifele and the Jets remain patient. As he said himself, he needs to be a Top 6 forward on this team and he’s not even close to taking a job from Blake Wheeler, Evander Kane, Andrew Ladd, Olli Jokinen, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Kyle Wellwood, Bryan Little or even Alexander Burmistrov.
“I think it’s just a matter of battling hard and doing everything I possibly can to stay here,” Scheifele said in camp. “I would definitely go back to Barrie if I had to, but I really want to stay here. After being here last year, I want to stay here this year.”