Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Every day is Christmas

Jets' Scheifele has had a fantastic year and best may be yet to come

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Last spring, Mark Scheifele was putting the finishing touches on a breakout rookie season with the OHL's Barrie Colts.

In June, the 18-year-old couldn't wipe a smile off his face after being selected seventh overall by the newly minted Winnipeg Jets.

In October, the young centreman raised eyebrows by earning a roster spot on the NHL team and was the talk of a town already buzzing with the NHL's return.

Two weeks later, on Oct. 19, Scheifele notched his first NHL goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre, just down the road from his hometown of Kitchener, Ont.

Last week, Scheifele was handed another gift: A world junior Team Canada jersey.

Question: What do you possibly get the kid for Christmas? "It's been unbelievable," Scheifele acknowledged, when asked how Santa could top the presents he's already unwrapped in 2011. "You look back on the year and kind of wonder how amazing it's been. I've been fortunate to get the bounces I've had, but I've worked hard and set goals for myself. It's been one of the best years of my life.

"I look back sometimes and get the chills a bit," he added. "It's been so exciting and so fun. But there's still a lot of work to be done. I still have to reach my goal of playing a full year in the NHL. But I've loved every moment of it."

Clearly, the 2012 World Junior Hockey Championship will be a new experience for Scheifele. But the tournament will also have a new and curious component for Jets fans, who no longer have to vicariously live through the exploits of young Colts about to embark on careers with other NHL teams.

The WJHC, after all, is a smorgasbord of burgeoning talent, and often a first glimpse of promise and future possibilities. Imagine, for example, Edmonton Oilers fans witnessing the Team Canada heroics of Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall with visions of sugar plums dancing in their holiday heads (the latter the consolation prize for another dead-last finish)?

Sure, there's almost always a local rooting interest, with a Canadian roster this year that features returnee Quinton Howden (Oakbank) and Winnipegger Mark Stone, the Brandon Wheat Kings sniper.

But it will be Scheifele, who since returning to the Colts has amassed 36 point in 19 games, who will be under the Jets microscope. Winnipeg GM Kevin Cheveldayoff and assistant GM Craig Heisinger, along with a handful of the organization's top scouts, plan to attend the tournament, which opens with Team Canada facing Finland on Dec. 26.

"You to go there and see how he progresses and how he plays against the best junior players in the world, and see if you can project him on when he might be on your roster," said Heisinger. "It's a high-profile pressure stage. That's what they're going to be facing more on a game-in, game-out basis (in the NHL).

"Can he do anything to change our mind? Yeah, he probably can," Heisinger added. "Positively and negatively. You want the kid to go there and compete hard. He could go there and get no points and still be a major contributor on the team."

However, Scheifele isn't expected to be a wallflower in Edmonton and Calgary, where the tournament shifts for the medal round. With several top-line centres lost to the NHL -- including Sean Couturier (Philadelphia), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Edmonton) and Tyler Seguin (Boston), Team Canada will be looking for Scheifele to fill the void.

Bring it on, he said.

"Definitely. It was my goal to come in and earn the spot of being the No. 1 centre or having a key role on the team," Scheifele said. "Right now, I want to do everything I can to help the team win. The main goal is team first right now. That's 100 per cent on my mind."

Another Jets prospect is Scheifele's Barrie Colts teammate Ivan Telegin, a 6-foot-4 Russian forward who was selected by the Thrashers in the fourth round (101st overall) in the 2010 draft.

Telegin, 19, has 29 points in 24 games in Barrie.

"He's had a good year in junior playing for (Colts head coach) Dale (Hawerchuk), trying to learn the structure of the North American game," Heisinger said. "Playing against real good teams on a small ice surface, it's going to be interesting to see how he does."

What kind of prospect is Telegin?

"We're still trying to figure that out, too," Heisinger replied. "We hope he's sort of a power forward."

For Scheifele, meanwhile, a new year awaits. The old one wasn't bad, either.

"It's going to be an exciting time," he said. "It's something you'll always remember. But it's the start of something... where we have to have our minds cleared and focused on the game."

The Jets? They'll be focused on Scheifele, of course.

randy.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 24, 2011 C4

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