Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/9/2015 (1526 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The skill was obvious with every dangle and every deft finish around the net. And Mark Scheifele’s passion for the game and boyish awkwardness in front of the camera still flashes even now, some four years later.
Rewind to the Winnipeg Jets first appearance in the Young Stars Classic back in 2011 — back when this town was gaga over the jersey colours, spiffy logos and everything seemed fresh and new again — and Scheifele’s first days as a Jet in the Okanagan were drawing rave reviews.
A few other names also pop out from the collection of prospects put on the ice four years ago. Adam Lowry was as tall as a hydro pole and spit out answers that seemed pulled straight from the ‘How to be a Captain’ handbook. There was the maturity in Zach Redmond’s game and the obvious physical tools of raw defenceman Ben Chiarot.
Yet it’s another player from that crew that still sticks with yours truly. And maybe his name, indirectly, also represents how far this franchise has come since then.
Yes, raise your hand if you remember Levko Koper.
A quick refresher: The Jets 2011 prospects roster featured some talent like Schiefele, Lowry and Chiarot — none of whom stuck long term immediately after that tournament, but are fixtures now. It also included others who contributed at an NHL level like Eric O’Dell, John Albert and those who are still in the system like Julian Melchiori.
But unlike the prospect-rich lineup that will hit the ice this weekend, that first bunch also included Klarc Wilson, Sebastien Owuya, Michael Kirkpatrick. And Koper. A seventh-round draft pick of the Atlanta Thrashers with decent hands, Koper had two goals in three games with the Jets Young Stars in Penticton, tying him with Scheifele.
He then immediately parlayed that showing into a wonderful career with the University of Alberta Golden Bears.
The point here is this: For all the love the Jets prospects have had heaped upon them over the last little while — and, man, there has been a ton — there really are no guarantees beyond the invite to Penticton.
The Jets have matured as an organization and with last year’s playoff appearance, so have the expectations.
So as much as we’re all fascinated as to whether Nikolaj Ehlers can find a spot in the Top 9 or if Josh Morrissey can crack the big-league roster, it might be time — at least, after this weekend — to pump the brakes here a bit. See, for every Scheifele, Lowry and Chiarot that makes it, there are dozens of Levko Kopers who get their one shot and then disappear from the NHL prospect map.
Now, the Jets have wisely left some room on their depth chart for their young guns. After all, the whole point of the draft-and-develop blueprint is to have these players eventually form the foundation of a contender and Ehlers, Morrissey, Connor Hellebuyck, Nic Petan, Andrew Copp and Brendan Lemieux could all be immediately in the mix for Jets jobs in the next couple of weeks.
But there will be no simple coronation, either. The Jets have been patient with most of their prospects and need to serve two masters here — the push to not just repeat as a playoff team but actually win a game in a series, all the while having competition for jobs come from within the roster and organization.
Let’s remember, too, that while they may all be declining assets, proven NHLers like Lee Stempniak, Jiri Tlusty and Jim Slater are still unsigned free agents and just a phone call away. Ditto Sean Bergenheim or Brad Boyes.
And so as much as the Jets collection of young talent has had a lot of smoke blown up their keisters, if they have a sense of entitlement it will be made to disappear the moment they step onto the ice for main training camp with Paul Maurice and the vets. Those guys could care less what round a guy was drafted in or how many goals he scored in Rimouski, Halifax or at Michigan. But if they can contribute right here and now, they will be as welcome in their new dressing room as Drew Stafford and Tyler Myers were last winter after the blockbuster trade with Buffalo.
This weekend in Penticton is a start. But it’s what comes after this which really matters. Tighten up those chinstraps, young guns. The old guard is watching and waiting.