Mark Scheifele was saying what he was told to say Monday, modestly protesting that making the opening-game lineup in no way assures him of sticking around all season.
But Jets head coach Claude Noel had a more definitive take on the issue.
"Stunned," was Noel's reply when asked what his reaction would be if the rookie was eventually returned to junior hockey. "Stunned. You watch him, he has high hockey intellect and I've said that all along. He is clever and his teammates realize it. He's smart. I'll be stunned. I'll guarantee you, he'd have to be a complete failure in these nine games. He also knows he's here day-by-day and he's not guaranteed anything, but I would be stunned to see him go back. And we'll make that assessment. I don't want to sound boastful, but I'd be stunned."
Scheifele signed an entry level contract with the Jets on Monday that will pay him about $925,000 a year for the next three.
"His chances of staying here will be well documented by me and the staff and it won't just revolve around scoring," said Noel. "He'll be judged on his fine play. For example, it's like saying I'm going to judge Kyle Wellwood just on his offence. Well, I am to a degree, but if Mark can prove he can do other things I'll put him in another role. Same with Wellwood. If Kyle Wellwood is a top six forward, great, but he can play bottom six very easily. Because I trust him. For me, if Mark Scheifele doesn't score, trust me, he can play. I know he can defend because I've watched him. We would like to get offence from him but that won't be the dominant number."
Scheifele has been working with veteran winger Wellwood and dragster Evander Kane lately and they could open the season against the Habs as the team's second line and garner power-play time after the top unit of Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler.
"A player needs certain elements that work in the NHL... to make the transition and Mark has them," said Wellwood.
"He's got a great release, he's got some size and he skates well. Some guys score in junior and it doesn't work at this level, but Mark will have success here. I expect him to continue to score. He's got a ton of skill and he's a great passer and he's got a release that fools goalies."
Noel says the players in the Jets dressing room have already made their mind up.
"I'll give you the best analogy you can get. When any player plays, other players comment. I talked to his linemates and it was Wellwood today. I said, 'How do you like playing with the kid? He's got quick hands, eh?' Wellwood said to me, 'There's only a handful of guys in the league capable of doing with their hands what (Scheifele) can do.' That's a big compliment," said Noel. "It's not just his hands. He's got quick hands, but it's hands and mind."
In the end, Noel summed it up simply.
"I'm happy to have him, I can tell you that," said the coach.
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