Published May 29, 2016
Mark Scheifele has become the poster boy of the Winnipeg Jets 2.0 and their draft and develop model … and I just can’t help feeling good about it.
As you’ll no doubt recall, Scheifele was the very first pick by the Winnipeg Jets after True North Sports and Entertainment purchased and relocated the Atlanta Thrashers back in 2011.
The Jets had the 7th pick overall and when general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff announced that the Winnipeg Jets were proud to select Mark Scheifele, my initial reaction was how great it was that Jets will be our team’s name and how terrific that they’ll be led by … Who the f*$% is Mark Scheifele???
Leading up to that moment, all I heard about for weeks were names like Sean Couturier, Ryan Strome (who went at number 5), Mika Zibanejad (who went at number 6), Dougie Hamilton or Ryan Murphy.
Couturier had conveniently dropped into the Jets lap so it should have been automatic that they’d take him as their future franchise centre, but NOOOO.
In retrospect, Scheifele wasn’t as far off the board a pick as I felt he was at the time, as you can see by reviewing TSN hockey guru Bob McKenzie’s 2011 draft prospects ranking. He actually listed Scheifele at number 12.
But I still hadn’t heard of him, nor could I figure out how to pronounce his last name.
Yet he began to endear himself to fans in his very first training camp, being named the first star in his very first exhibition game. He showed glimpses that suggested this Scheifele kid might have some game and people wanted to see him play.
He ended up scoring his first official pro goal and appeared in 7 games in the 2011-12 season before being returned to junior where he had a solid season with the Barrie Colts and also played for Canada at the world junior championships. Being sent back to junior after he was drafted seemed like a reasonable decision at the time and Scheifele and his development looked to be on track.
The next season was the NHL lockout year and after playing a key role for Canada in the 2013 world junior championships, Mark Scheifele only played in 4 games with the Jets before being sent back to junior yet again. At this point, the doubts started to creep in … what’s wrong with Mark Scheifele? Why can’t he stick with the big club? Geez, he’s 19 for crying out loud.
Scheifele ended up having a tremendous junior season as a 19 year old, culminating with a spectacular playoff performance where he scored 15 goals and 26 assists in 21 playoff games leading Barrie all the way to the OHL final.
By this time I recall feeling quite hyped about his potential and was looking forward to seeing Mark Scheifele finally become a regular with the Jets.
During his first full-time pro season, Scheifele started fairly slowly and he fell down a lot. However, he also kept improving and the one thing that was already abundantly clear was that he has a world class work ethic.
One of the first hints I recall that Scheifele might actually turn into something truly special was listening to new head coach Paul Maurice’s comments following a win over the Carolina Hurricanes.
“A dirty little Winnipeg secret is that Scheifele’s a pretty good player.”
Post game scrum, Feb 4, 2014
Audio Link courtesy of IllegalCurve.com
In that scrum, Maurice went on to say, “I’ve got no problem putting Mark Scheifele out on the ice against anyone”.
Scheifele was maturing into a genuine top-six forward and he seemed to be gaining confidence with each game. Then, disaster struck in a game against the New York Islanders with Scheifele suffering a knee injury that cut his regular season short and ended the Jets playoff hopes.
However, Scheifele recovered from his knee injury quickly and was surprisingly (at least to me) named to team Canada for the 2014 world hockey championships. In what would prove to be an ongoing pattern for his development, as the tournament progressed Scheifele’s game improved and he began to move up the lineup.
2014-15 was Scheifele’s second full season and he played in all 82 games. He recorded a decent season with 15 goals and 49 points, but was manhandled in the playoffs against the Anaheim Ducks … and he was still falling down too much. By this point I found myself questioning whether Mark Scheifele would really be able to develop into a bonafide number one center, but he was still teasing me with glimpses suggesting a much higher ceiling and there was clear progress in his game.
So I held out hope.
Scheifele emerged ready for the 2015-16 season looking faster, bigger and stronger. He looked more confident in the face off circle and wasn’t falling down so much. He even began to incorporate a physical presence into his game and started to assert himself and mix it up as if he suddenly realized he was 6′ 3″ and bigger than most of the other guys on the ice. There were even some flashes of meanness that made me smile — the kid has a bit of an attitude.
Maybe Mark Scheifele can be a number one center after all.
Back in January, hall of famer Adam Oates spoke glowingly about Scheifele, who he has been working with as a skills consultant. On the local TSN Rona Round Table radio show with Rick Ralph, Oates insisted that Scheifele will be a big star.
In what turned out to be uncanny foreshadowing, after getting hurt twice and coming back, Scheifele was suddenly thrust into the number one center role because of a neck injury to Bryan Little. The result? Mark Scheifele emerges as something of a terror. He ends up scoring 29 goals and 61 points in 71 games and was the hottest scorer in the league after the all star break.
In a season of disappointment for the Winnipeg Jets, Mark Scheifele appears to have arrived.
Scheifele gets rewarded by being invited to play for Canada once again at the 2016 world hockey championships. After starting out the tournament centering the fourth line, he develops fantastic chemistry with Mark Stone and ends up emerging as one of Canada’s key players in the march to a gold medal.
As TSN analyst Ray Ferraro suggests, Scheifele was arguably Canada’s best player in the gold medal game and looks like what a number one center should look like … with a lot of growth still to come.
Coming off of his performance for Canada, he’s now been named to team North America for the upcoming World Cup of Hockey tournament to be held in September.
At 23 years old, 5 years after being drafted, Mark Scheifele is a terrific example of the draft and develop model. He has emerged as a legitimate number one center with size, speed, smarts, skill and vision.
In short, Mark Scheifele’s a pretty good player.