Mark Scheifele is the second coming of Dale Hawerchuk. At least that is the prevailing theme in Winnipeg these days. The Winnipeg Jets’ first round selection (7th overall) is everything you’d want a first round pick to be. He is mature for his age, unassuming and modest. In fact, he personifies what the City of Winnipeg is all about.
That makes him likeable. His play on the ice, at least thus far in training camp, makes him even more likeable. With only one season under his belt in the Ontario Hockey League, Scheifele has surprised many with his impressive rookie tournament, solid play in the team’s intra-squad scrimmage and, of course, his four-point performance in the first NHL game (exhibition or not) in Winnipeg featuring the name Jets in 15 years.
The youngster has demonstrated excellent poise, especially off the rush. He has soft hands, great vision and plays a mature game. His strengths have overshadowed his weaknesses, that being strength along the boards, first step and a tendency to sometimes try a pass that may be too cute—at least for the NHL level.
All of the above is fine and dandy. It is certainly encouraging but at the macro level there are many reasons why Scheifele should be returned to Barrie for another year playing under one of the greatest Jets of all-time, the aforementioned Dale Hawerchuk.
Quality of competition
Make no mistake; Scheifele has stood out since arriving in Winnipeg. He has scored, he has created offense and he has done so with a certain amount of poise. But, and this is a big but, who has he been doing this against?
Opposing team’s rookie rosters are not exactly littered with top prospects. For every Ryan Nugent-Hopkins there are four late round draft picks looking to carve out a name for themselves before being shipped to the ECHL to pursue their battle up the chain of professional hockey.
His strong performance in the team’s intra-squad scrimmage is, well, a strong performance in an intra-squad scrimmage. The intensity, as Ron Hainsey put it, is not exactly high.
That brings us to his brilliant performance on Tuesday evening. The fan experience was incredible, the excitement was palpable and the celebration of the youngster’s performance, capped off by the chanting of his name was joyful. All that said, look at the defense pairings on the ice for each of Scheifele’s four points on Tuesday.
Goal 1: Aaron Johnson-Austin Madaisky
Goal 2: Grant Clitsome-Cody Goloubef
Goal 3: Grant Clitsome-Kris Russell
Goal 4: Kris Russell-Derek Prout
Russell is a four-year NHL veteran; Clitsome has played 42 NHL games and the rest of the players few hockey people have ever heard of. Put another way, he was not exactly playing against a defense combination of Fedor Tyutin and James Wisniewski.
Sample size is also, obviously, a factor; obvious enough that we won’t touch on it further.
Considering the team does not have Stanley Cup expectations and probably an outside chance at a playoff spot, does management want to burn a year of Scheifele’s entry-level contract (relative cost control) for a year that may be beneficial to his development but also may stunt it. In the long haul if the team is battling for a fringe playoff spot this season, why not save Scheifele’s cost control contract for a season down the road when the team is (as the fans hope) a legitimate playoff contender.
Remember the Jets are not going to be a free spending team. Having a certain amount of valuable cost control contracts is going to be vital to this team’s success.
World Junior Championships, another year in CHL
Scheifele has played less than 70 games in the Canadian Hockey League. By all accounts his performance at the Canadian World Junior Camp was not anything special. Another year under the tutelage of Hawerchuk, a full season against the opposing team’s best shutdown defenders and chance to make the Canadian World Junior team playing against the best players under 20 years old around the NHL would do wonders for his development. If he really is that good, then his colours will show over the course of the season (larger sample size).
Expectations are always high for a first round pick. They are higher for a first round pick on a Canadian team. They are even higher for a first round pick on a Canadian team that has not seen NHL hockey for fifteen years. Catch the drift? Can Scheifele succeed? It is possible. However, another season in junior will allow fans, and more importantly the Jets brass, a better idea of what true expectations should be for Scheifele.
As one fan put it on Twitter: “Scheifele: Over/under 76 goals?”
Where does he fit in?
Coach Claude Noel mentioned that the Jets do not really have size up the middle. Scheifele is bigger than people think, but his size should not be a significant factor when it comes to whether he makes this team. Noel said he lined up Antropov in the middle to add size and play tough matchups. He also said he could be slid over to the right wing. Remember the Jets have Bryan Little, Alex Burmistrov, Nikolai Antropov, Kyle Wellwood and Jim Slater up the middle. Where does Scheifele fit in? If it is on the top two lines, then what happens to Little or Burmistrov? Those top two lines will result in very difficult competition. Conversely, if he plays on the third line (even if it is employed in a scoring capacity) this will result in less ice-time and less offensive support.
Never mind the fact that the team is also poor in the face-off circle, with only Kyle Wellwood and Jim Slater proving to be anywhere above average.
All in all, Scheifele may turn into a tremendous player, if that is the case, another year of seasoning won’t hurt him. In fact, it may help both him and the organization—a relationship fans hope lasts a long, long time.