GOLFING, fishing, picking out china patterns — who knows what most of the Winnipeg Jets are up to these days? But one of their future teammates is getting better with each passing game.
Mark Scheifele is pushing and dragging his Barrie Colts toward an Ontario Hockey League championship and a berth in Saskatoon’s Memorial Cup. He’s playing hockey deep into May and thriving in the most competitive atmosphere his level has to offer.
The Jets wanted Scheifele to go back to junior and dominate. To grow as a player, both physically and mentally. He’s done it all. Scheifele has never, until now, been the very best player in his age group. Allowing him to return to junior and develop at his own pace has allowed for a transformation from solid to superior.
"He’s becoming wise to the game," said Colts coach and Jets legend Dale Hawerchuk. "It’s a long grind and it’s an opportunity to test yourself and improve yourself, and he’s taken advantage of it. I’ve always believed in Mark’s ability and that he was going to grow. Now he’s doing it in a pressurized environment. It’s allowed him to grow all aspects of his game."
Argue about Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff’s decision to select Scheifele with the seventh pick in the 2011 NHL entry draft all you like. But the decision to send him back to junior to further his development is looking beyond wise.
The 20-year-old centre is now dominating and adding the gleam of confidence and winning to his skill set. Scheifele is no longer a very good player. A this point in time, he’s the best in his league and maybe in the country.
The Jets selected Scheifele for his upside, which he is now beginning to show. Four goals in the third period on Wednesday night to lead his Colts to a 6-4 comeback win gives Scheifele 15 goals in 19 playoff games and 39 points. Four more points and he’ll tie Cameron Mann for third all-time in OHL playoff scoring.
The Colts now lead the London Knights 3-1 in the best-of-seven series, with the winner advancing to the Memorial Cup.
"Mark has made a very big step since the world juniors," said Steve Spott, head coach of the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers an1d Team Canada at last winter’s IIHF world junior tournament. "The emergence of Mark will bode very well for him next year when he gets to Winnipeg. The mental part of the game is so important, and right now he’s in a real good place. He’s dangerous every time he’s out on the ice. He’s developing at an entirely different level right now."
How all this translates to the pro game remains to be seen, but the Jets can be assured they’ve done everything to help him develop. They can look around the junior landscape and confidently say their prospect is among the very best at that level.
The Knights are viewed in the OHL as the more talented and balanced team, but Scheifele has taken over the series.
"I’ve watched and talked to lots of other OHL guys and they’ve all said the same thing," said Spott. "Mark has been the difference in the series. He definitely has been the best player in the series and given Barrie a chance to win a championship."
Maybe Scheifele would have thrived in the NHL if given more time to catch on, but nothing in his performance suggested that when Cheveldayoff sent him back to junior. Instead, he’s been given the chance to play in critical moments and find out how he handles them. Brilliantly, it would seem.
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