Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Rookie Jets' descent has been steep, almost perpendicular

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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- That thud you may have heard this week wasn't loud, but it was there just the same.

Jets rookie centre Mark Scheifele has landed back on earth.

Winnipeg's first first-round draft pick of the new era fairly sailed through the NHL pre-season, playing both creatively and opportunistically while scoring eight points in five games.

He won fans and hearts, smiling every moment of the way.

But through two games of the real thing, the regular season, Scheifele has been only a bit player. His ice time went from 13 minutes-plus in the opener to 10 minutes-plus in Thursday's 4-3 loss to Chicago.

The 18-year-old has no points and just one shot on goal in two games and is minus one.

"It's been a lot more intense than the pre-season," Scheifele said Friday. "Everyone's really good, everyone's really smart and it's a lot to adapt to. It's a lot to grasp in a few games.

"So I have to work even harder, give it 110 per cent at all times just because everyone's better, everyone's smarter. You have to be able to adapt to all that to stick at this level."

Sticking with the Jets will be his focus for the next seven games and he'd like to get started on that beginning tonight at Jobing.com Arena against the Phoenix Coyotes.

Winnipeg can send him back to his junior team, the OHL's Barrie Colts, at any time, but once Scheifele reaches 10 games, this will count as Year 1 of his contract no matter what happens after that.

"This is just about playing my game," Scheifele said of Saturday's contest. "I think the last two games I've started to get away from my game. Maybe I was a little too nervous. I think I've got to play my game, not play someone else's and that's keeping my head up and being aware of where my guys are and start to click better with my linemates."

Friday, after a morning practice in Chicago, Scheifele and Jets coach Claude Noel were seen chatting privately in the lower halls of United Center.

That and the team's 0-2 start have not killed his smile, but it's more reserved this week.

"There's probably a little bit of discouragement just because I know I can play better," Scheifele said Friday. "I know I can do more to help the team. There's not a lot of discouragement but I'm trying to make that my motivation because I want to stick here."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 15, 2011 C5

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