Scheifele’s been just Ducky, but does Hawerchuk think he’s ready?

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We temporarily interrupt this Mark Scheifele lovefest -- and right now the Winnipeg Jet centre's popularity is absolutely off the charts -- with a sage message from a voice of reason...

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/09/2011 (3981 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

We temporarily interrupt this Mark Scheifele lovefest — and right now the Winnipeg Jet centre’s popularity is absolutely off the charts — with a sage message from a voice of reason…

 

“I watched the highlights,” began Dale Hawerchuk, not long after Scheifele had painted a four-point masterpiece in a 6-1 exhibition win over the Columbus Blue Jackets. “What can I say? He’s a special player.

John Woods / the canadian press Winnipeg rookie Mark Scheifele (right) is enjoying great success at his first NHL training camp. But does he have enough seasoning to thrive immediately in the NHL?

“But where does he go from here? Who knows?”

Yes, one of the juicy sidebars developing as part of the Jets’ triumphant return to the ice Tuesday night is the debate over what to do with the 18-year-old phenom — especially if he should continue to drop jaws every time he jumps over the boards.

Less than two weeks ago, it seemed almost certain that Scheifele would head back to the OHL’s Barrie Colts for further seasoning from Hawerchuk, his head coach. But with every game — shoot, every practice — the kid’s maturation is like watching time-lapse photography of a tree growing from a seedling.

Dale Hawerchuk

All that said, one game, as magical as it was, hardly guarantees Scheifele a roster spot with the big club on opening night.

“Does he have the ability? One hundred per cent he has the ability,” said Hawerchuk. “Does he have the mileage? Not yet. But the question is does he need to do that in junior or can he do it learning on the job? He’ll be the one who answers those questions, based on his play over the next two or three weeks.

“Here’s the thing to consider, though: Where are you at when the honeymoon’s over? When you first go up, your adrenaline’s huge and you’ve got a lot of hop in your step. But that’s not the only thing about playing in the NHL. It’s the rigours of the game, the travel and playing against men.

“Being 18 and being skinny, I can tell you some nights it was like dodgeball, because they hit for real. They do the same thing in junior; they’re just not as big or mature.”

And it’s here where Hawerchuk’s experience — both as a coach and as someone who lived what Scheifele is living right now — can be valuable to both the player and the Jets’ organization.

Hawerchuk, make no mistake, loves Scheifele’s game and his approach to the craft. But there’s a big difference in their level of development at a similar age.

Scheifele has one year of major junior under his belt. Hawerchuk was hands down the best player in the country when he first stepped on the ice as an 18-year-old for the Jets in the fall of 1981.

And so we asked: How did Hawerchuk know he was ready for The Show?

“I had 180 points in my last year in junior before I came there,” he began. “I was like, ‘OK, I’ve won two Memorial Cups… I had 100 points one year, 180 the next… I don’t want to go back to junior. I want to go to the next level.’

“It definitely took a couple of weeks getting used to the speed and that, but it also at times seemed easier because you’re playing with much better players.

“It takes time to get adjusted to the speed and the timing and living life on your own. But after two or three weeks, I knew I could play at the NHL level.”

Not surprisingly, the Jets are countering all this hype by saying it’s way too early to even be having this debate. But Scheifele IS forcing their hand here. And so they have to weigh this, according to Hawerchuk:

“Going back to junior, he’d be a huge go-to guy and play a lot of minutes. In my mind, if he’s in Winnipeg he’s got to be playing power-play, he’s got to be playing top 6-7 forward-type minutes. Otherwise, I’d rather see him go to Winnipeg in a year when he’s a bona fide Top 3-4 forward. Now you’ve really got something.

“To me, that’s the type of player he is; he’s not going to be a fourth-line checker.”

Of course, the cynics will point out that Hawerchuk has something at stake here. He’s the head coach and director of hockey operations with the Colts, a squad that last year missed the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.

And having Scheifele as his No. 1 centre makes his gig as coach a whole lot easier.

But make no mistake, there is no conundrum for Hawerchuk. He wants to see his protegé succeed and to fulfil his dream of playing in the NHL. Besides…

“I’ve always had a Plan B here if he’s not coming back,” Hawerchuk said, chuckling. “I had to, knowing Mark like I do and seeing him get better by the minute. “The bottom line is I’ll always root for the kid.”

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

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