Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Scheifele's star shining

He's performing at both ends, looks like a lock for No. 1 centre

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Most 20-year-old men can put on a few pounds and get a little stronger, but it is the rare ones who can have the puck follow them around in an NHL game like it did Mark Scheifele Tuesday night.

Scheifele has some physical maturing to do, but rest assured, when his body catches up to his mind, he's going to be a very effective NHLer.

Still very much a boy in a man's game, Scheifele has moments where he looks out of place, but more and more he's hunting the puck and finding it. It's a confidence thing, and when he begins to red-line on self-assurance, Scheifele will be an impact player. He might be closer to this than some of us think.

Scheifele has looked a tad vanilla at times, but he hasn't been a bad player or a drag on his team. Perhaps it's been a case of him wanting to walk before he tried to run, taking care of the defensive end of his game and earning the trust of his coaches.

Tuesday night, however, he looked confident and had impact playing on a line with Evander Kane and Blake Wheeler. Scheifele wanted the puck and wanted to make plays. He's developed the knowledge that he can take care of business in his own end, and it has freed him to become an aggressive offensive player.

The Jets didn't draft him to be a checker, but it's clear they've instilled in him the importance of being a two-way player. It's the old way in the NHL -- learn to play defence first, then let the scoring take care of itself. Lots of teams and players do it the other way these days, but Scheifele has been a bit of a throwback in his development.

The flash seen from him Tuesday night is a window to the future. He can and almost certainly will be this team's No. 1 centre.

There have been times when he has not looked physically ready for the NHL, but the Jets' lack of organizational depth at centre ice has afforded him the opportunity to learn on the job in Winnipeg rather than St. John's.

Some players crumple under such pressure, but Scheifele has begun to rise to the level of his competition. There might be a few more dips this season, but if he can string some games together like Tuesday's, the experiment will be successful.

He has one goal and two assists in his first 10 games, which won't be confused with setting the league on fire, but he was also even on the plus-minus scale while playing second-line minutes.

Timid would be too strong a way to describe some of his games, but he did have some seen-and-not-heard nights.

Tuesday, he ran the action in both ends of the rink. Dropping down low to take the first pass and then distributing to Wheeler and Kane, Scheifele ran his line and played like he belonged.

Coach Claude Noel played him just under 22 minutes in regulation, by far the most action he's seen all season.

The leap from junior to pro is massive and each player's game catches on at a different pace. For Scheifele to be effective, he needs to carry the puck and direct traffic with his passes. He's not a banger who can hide his shortcomings along the wall.

He must be in the middle and exposed at both ends of the ice. He's been smart to make sure he can take care of his defensive chores first. Any reluctance Noel has had to use him seems to be fading.

Scheifele has earned his ice and the more he gets, the better he'll show.

It's evident he's going to be an effective and impactful NHL player. He was on Tuesday. Maybe the future is now. Twitter: @garylawless


Winnipeg Jets players Michael Frolik (67) and Dustin Byfuglien are sandwiched between Washington Capitals players Troy Brouwer (20) and Alex Ovechkin in front of goaltender Braden Holtby during the first period.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 23, 2013 C3

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.


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