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Teemu, Ducky... Mark?

Scheifele's play puts him back into chatter for the Calder

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Jets centre Mark Scheifele scored twice against the Sabres Dec. 17, helping carry him to a 14-point surge in the last 16 games.

GARY WIEPERT / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILES Enlarge Image

Jets centre Mark Scheifele scored twice against the Sabres Dec. 17, helping carry him to a 14-point surge in the last 16 games.

CALGARY -- Lost amidst all the upheaval surrounding the floundering Winnipeg Jets in recent weeks has been an interesting question -- has Jets forward Mark Scheifele played his way back into the Calder Trophy conversation?

With 17 points (including five goals and a goal and an assist Thursday) in the Jets' last 18 games, Scheifele was leading all NHL rookies this season in assists with 18 after the Calgary game and with 26 points (8G, 18A) is fourth in the rookie scoring race, just three points behind Colorado phenom Nathan MacKinnon.

While Scheifele clearly still has offensive ground to make up, he is gaining on the rookie pack in front of him quickly. Consider: Scheifele's 17 points in the last 18 games come after he scored just 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in his first 32 games this season.

In other words, Scheifele's game has progressed by leaps and bounds over the past month or so and anything close to a continuation of his most recent scoring pace would make his name impossible to ignore in the rookie-of-the year conversation come season's end.

'I think he's headed in the right direction for sure. I think you can see the confidence in his game has definitely taken a huge step. A lot of times for young guys that's a big thing'

-- Jets captain Andrew Ladd on Mark Scheifele

Yes, it's true offensive statistics don't tell the whole Calder Trophy story in a year in which a couple of blue-chip blue-liners in Anaheim's Hampus Lindholm and Nashville's Seth Jones will also attract some votes, regardless of how many points Scheifele scores.

But it's also a fact the people who vote for these things historically tend to skew towards the rookies who put up the sexy offensive numbers, with only one defenceman -- Tyler Myers in 2010 -- among the last eight Calder Trophy winners.

It is no longer looking like such a stretch to suggest Scheifele could repeat history and take down the same rookie-of-the-year award his mentor -- and former coach with the Barrie Colts -- Dale Hawerchuk won in 1982 after his first season with the Jets.

"I think he's headed in the right direction for sure," Jets captain Andrew Ladd said this week when asked to assess the 20-year-old rookie's play. "I think you can see the confidence in his game has definitely taken a huge step. A lot of times for young guys that's a big thing."

Scheifele agreed Thursday the improvement in his offensive game has been more in his head than his hands.

"I definitely feel more confident. Every game, I've tried to improve and I think that's been the key -- just sticking to the process and I haven't strayed from it all," said Scheifele, who was drafted by the Jets in the first round and seventh overall in 2011.

"I think it's just a matter of getting used to who you're playing against -- playing against men. That's the biggest thing -- just getting the experience and knowing how long you can hang on to the puck.

"It has slowed down a little bit. It's obviously still very fast out here, but the biggest thing really is just getting the experience. Trying to be in the right spots -- that gives you the best chance."

So about that Calder Trophy?

"That's not really on my mind at all," insisted Scheifele. "It's a team-first mentality here. It's not about individual awards. It's all about helping the team and that hasn't even crossed my mind."

Come on -- it hasn't even crossed your mind that you have a chance to join a tiny club of former Jets players who won the Calder Trophy that includes only two other names, a Hall of Famer in Hawerchuk and a future Hall of Famer in Teemu Selanne?

"Obviously that would be quite the honour, but it's really not on my mind," Scheifele repeated. "It's still about trying to make the playoffs and helping the team win.

"That's the biggest thing and only thing on my mind."

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @PaulWiecek

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 17, 2014 C3

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