Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Hawerchuk says pick just... ducky

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ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Was it not the perfect connection between old Jets and new Jets Friday night at the Xcel Energy Center?

Seconds after True North chairman Mark Chipman confirmed it would be Jets on the new uniforms, old Jets superstar and franchise leading scorer Dale Hawerchuk, now the head coach of the OHL's Barrie Colts, saw his top centreman Mark Scheifele, 18, become the new Jets' first-round draft pick.

Hawerchuk, now 48, was thrilled with the synergy.

"It's great; I love to see hockey back in Winnipeg," said the Jets first-round, first-overall pick of exactly 30 years ago in the corridor of the Minnesota Wild's arena. "I think when the new rink went in in Winnipeg, well, you know me, I've been an advocate of it coming back and it'll be successful.

"We've been to too many other markets that haven't had the same fan base. You look around and say, 'How can Winnipeg not have a team when they're in places where people barely know the game?'

"It's very exciting for one of my guys, too."

Scheifele fits the profile of what the new Jets need -- scoring -- according to the Jets legend and Hockey Hall of Famer who tallied 1,409 points in his career.

"You look at this draft and there are some very good defencemen," he said. "You look around the league and for big centremen who can play and put up points, (Ryan) Strome (who went fifth to the Islanders) and Scheifele were your guys in this draft.

"Once Strome went, it was, 'Oh boy, I think the next in his class might be Scheifele.' He's a great kid, great size, great hands, and he loves the game to death.

"When you have kids like that, they'll be successful. They just find a way."

 

Scheifele, Hawerchuk said, got a baptism with the big guns of the OHL this past season, when he put up 75 points as a junior rookie.

The Colts, who struggled all year long and lost 49 games, thought they might get centres Kyle Clifford back from L.A. and Alexandre Burmistrov back from Atlanta last fall. But neither returned.

"It was a great opportunity," Hawerchuk said. "He was the top guy all year long. But he had to play against 19- and 20-year-olds all year long, plus the other team's top two defencemen. And he put those kinds of numbers up at 17, a pretty good feat."

The hype and attention that may await Scheifele in Winnipeg will be no issue for the Kitchener, Ont., native, Hawerchuk said.

"Oh yeah, he's a great kid," he said. "Down-to-earth solid kid. He's just worried about playing hockey. That's the greatest thing about being 18.

"You're just so focused on playing and making your mark."

And he hopes the Jets will see the wisdom in another year of junior for their first first-round pick.

"I'd think one more year," Hawerchuk said. "Burmy, I'd have loved to have had him one more year and send them back a 120-point man. Same with Scheif. I'd like to see him really dominate. You take a guy at seven, you want him dominating junior hockey then going to the NHL, in my mind."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 25, 2011 C1

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