Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Jets' Scheifele is just ducky

Dark-horse draft pick is showing shades of Hawerchuk

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He's wearing one of those awful nondescript training-camp numbers -- 45 -- that just doesn't look right on a jersey and screams out a bus ticket back to junior or to an outpost in the minors.

But if Mark Scheifele continues to make magic like he did Tuesday night in the Winnipeg Jets' 6-1 preseason victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets -- and we're talking David Copperfield meets Criss Angel here -- he'll not only get his pick of digits for the back of his sweater, he may soon need to find permanent new digs right here in River City.

Yes, we understand the calendar has yet to turn to October and there's a whole pile of work to do between now and the NHL regular-season opener on Oct. 9, but what Scheifele did in front of a sell-out crowd of 15,004 -- two goals, two assists -- in his Winnipeg debut was deliver one of those coming-out-party performances that will have this town buzzing for days, if not longer.

Put it this way: fans may have been unsure how to pronounce his name when it was first called out by GM Kevin Cheveldayoff on draft day back in June -- it's Shi-flea, by the way -- but they sure as heck have it nailed now.

And we heard it at full volume in the third period and after the game when he was introduced as the first star, skating back out on the ice for a salute to chants of 'Scheifele! Scheifele!'

Now, go ahead and accuse us of cranking up the hyperbole given it's only the pre-season, but what the kid accomplished Tuesday in his Winnipeg debut had to be eerily reminiscent to what his mentor and junior coach with the Barrie Colts also did as an 18-year-old back in the day.

For those of you who need to be introduced, that man is Jets' legend Dale Hawerchuk.

"It was everything and more," said Scheifele afterward. "That energy was amazing. I fed off it and worked my hardest on every shift. I wanted to give the energy back to the crowd.

"This was definitely more than I expected. I didn't expect to get a point, knowing how fast and how good everyone is at this level... to get four is unbelievable."

Yeah, you could say that. Unbelievable just about perfectly describes it.

Scheifele's two goals Tuesday night were carbon copies, as he set up to the right of Blue Jackets' netminder Curtis Sanford and buried shots into the open cage. But his two assists were also things of beauty as he set up Kevin Clark and Ivan Telegin with dynamite passes that gave us a hint of his on-ice vision.

What's amazing to consider here is this: two years ago Scheifele was playing with the Kitchener Dutchmen of the Greater Ontario Hockey League and he has just one year of major junior under his belt with Hawerchuk and the Colts, the worst team in the OHL last season.

Not only was the Jets' selection of him considered by some to be a bit of a reach -- he had been ranked a second-rounder by The Hockey News -- it seemed all but a given that he would be sent back to Barrie and, with a little hard work and luck, possibly be wearing Canada's colours at the World Junior Hockey Championships this Christmas.

Instead, those colours may now be the 'Polar Night Blue' and 'Aviator Blue' that dominate the Jets' uniforms.

This kid's progression arrow isn't just pointing skyward, it's screaming out for a long hard look by Jets' management. Consider that in four games as a Jet -- including three at the Young Stars tournament in Penticton -- the 18-year-old kid with a megawatt smile now has four goals and chipped in with three helpers.

"This is a big challenge," said Scheifele. "The first few shifts were a big adjustment from camp and the Young Stars tournament. But after I got through the first few shifts, it was OK."

And then came the million dollar, question of the moment:

'Can you make this team?'

"I think I can," said Scheifele. "I'm gong to work my hardest to do that. If I keep on working I think I can make it."

Right now, not a single soul is arguing.

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 21, 2011 C3

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