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Scheifele injury jolts Jets

MCL sprain shelves rookie for at least six weeks

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His name was spoken only in hushed tones, as if in the past tense, and the subject was broached with the same sensitivity as a death in the family.

Well, for the record, Winnipeg Jets centre Mark Scheifele is alive and kicking, albeit with a sprain in the medial colateral ligament in his right knee that doesn't require surgery, but will likely keep him out for six to eight weeks.

Still, it's the impact his absence will have in a critical stretch run to the playoffs that created a sombre vibe around Jetville Wednesday.

"It's a big blow," said Blake Wheeler, who had patrolled Scheifele's right flank. "He's been playing really well for us and he's a guy who brought a lot of skill and ability to our lineup and a lot of enthusiasm. It's going to be a big hole to fill and a tall task, that's for sure.

"He's been such a key part of our success lately. His play has been something to really be excited about for everyone in the organization, everyone in our city. It's going to be tough to replace, but we're going to have to find away to add some of the elements he brings to our lineup.

"You just hope he can heal as quick as possible."

An admitted hockey junkie/student, Scheifele's transformation remains one of the biggest developments of the Jets' 2013-14 season. He struggled to find his confidence early in the year, but once he became comfortable quickly morphed into an offensive threat and, arguably, the Jets' most defensively responsible forward.

Scheifele has 34 points this season, but a good chunk of that -- 12 goals and 17 assists -- has come in the last 40 games where he settled in as the club's No. 1A/2 centre and also saw a lot of time on the power play.

The Jets don't plan on calling anyone up from St. John's and, try as they may, were not able to add another centre at the trade deadline. So now expect them to move Olli Jokinen up to the No. 2 spot with Jim Slater possibly stepping in to centre the third line. There's also the chance coach Paul Maurice may tinker with the idea of using Michael Frolik in the middle, and Evander Kane's name also came up Wednesday.

"I got to find somebody to play centre ice and shave some minutes at the number Scheif was at (16:21)," said Jets coach Paul Maurice. "So there's going to be some movement in positions. I've got to talk to some players about role changes and lines and things like that."

Scheifele's emergence -- and the decision to move Frolik onto the unit with Bryan Little and Andrew Ladd in place of Wheeler -- helped give the Jets some balance up front and made them more difficult for opposition coaches to match lines and defensive pairings against Winnipeg.

Don't expect Little's ice time to spike up -- he's already at 20:02 -- but the minutes for Jokinen (16:44) and others should jump.

"Any time you lose a guy like Scheifs it's not a good thing," said Jokinen. "But at the same time we're in a playoff push over here and things like that you can't worry about. You've got to move forward. It's hard to replace him, but maybe there's two, three other guys who can fill in and get a little more ice time and try to fill the hole."

"You can only play so much and keep your energy levels up," added Little. "I don't know what the coach is thinking, what the lines will be or how they'll fill his role but whatever happens, I'll be ready for anything.

"If anything, there's a bit more pressure on other guys to step up. The centres definitely have to step up and fill that role but for us, I don't think anyone wants to change their game just because we lost him."

Lost in all this is not just the physical recovery Scheifele must make, but the emotional one as well. And that's an issue GM Kevin Cheveldayoff saw first-hand Tuesday night after the New York Islanders' Calvin de Haan's hit on Scheifele.

"You feel for a young player," said Cheveldayoff. "Looking in Mark's eyes (Tuesday night) when I came down right when it happened you could see there's a level of fear, there's a level of anguish and pain.

He's a big part of our future. We're just excited and happy that no surgery is required."

 

-- with files from Tim Campbell

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 6, 2014 D2

History

Updated on Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 8:14 AM CST: Corrects typo

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