Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Jets want stronger Scheifele, ship rookie back to junior

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HE tried his hardest but the bottom line on Mark Scheifele's quest to stick with the Winnipeg Jets for the lockout-shortened NHL season was twofold.

His strength for NHL competition was an ongoing concern and he didn't have enough trust from his coach.

On Wednesday, Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, head coach Claude Noel and assistant GM Craig Heisinger called in the 19-year-old centre -- used mostly as a right-winger while he was here this time -- and told him for a second straight season he'd be going back to his junior team, the Barrie Colts and coach Dale Hawerchuk.

While the Colts' already good chances in the Ontario Hockey League picture were good, they got a huge boost.

Scheifele was said to be deeply disappointed on Wednesday, but he did post on his Twitter account: "Thanks to the Winnipeg Jets organization and to all the Jets fans for all the support, good luck to the @NHLJets for the rest of the season."

The team said it wouldn't make Scheifele available for further comment on Wednesday.

Cheveldayoff told reporters later in the day that the first-round pick of 2011, seventh overall, took the news like a pro.

"We met late into last night as a management staff ... then Claude and Zinger and myself met with Mark this morning and explained it to him," he said. "I would assume there's a level of disappointment because like anything you want to play at the highest level as fast you possibly can but he certainly understood it."

Cheveldayoff has mentioned this before, that prospects can improve at many things but that strength will come on its own schedule. At one point, Cheveldayoff said Scheifele's skating and skills are NHL-calibre.

"Playing him on the wing what we told him was that we're looking to see from a strength perspective how he was going to be able to last over a long period of time," the GM said.

He also said stringing the matter along was not a good idea.

Scheifele had played four of the team's nine games this season, without a point. Had he reached a sixth game played, the first year of his entry-level contract would have taken effect.

Cheveldayoff said Wednesday he didn't want to hear the comparisons between Scheifele and others from the 2011 draft who have played NHL games or contributed to their teams.

He pointed out that this is Scheifele's third year of junior hockey.

"A lot of players who have moved on, it was going to be their fourth year," he said. "At the end of the day, the fact that you don't rush a player shouldn't be looked at as a negative in any way, shape or form."

Cheveldayoff said the Jets put value in leadership experiences that Scheifele may gain more of this season.

"Too many times a lot of 18-year-old and 19-year-old kids get plucked out of junior when they're not ready, when they're just starting to become leaders and they don't get that opportunity and they're just starting to be a leader on their team," he said. "When he goes back to junior it's going to be his responsibility to handle that on his team.... four or five years from now when he's a real leader on this team, he's going to have the experience to draw back upon."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 7, 2013 D2

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