Big centres the future

Youngsters Scheifele, Lowry represent standard equipment in West

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Some night, likely not too far down the road, folks in Winnipeg will come to the rink and see a lineup with Mark Scheifele and Adam Lowry listed as a pair of centres and know their Jets are ready to challenge the Western Conference power elite.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/09/2014 (2988 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Some night, likely not too far down the road, folks in Winnipeg will come to the rink and see a lineup with Mark Scheifele and Adam Lowry listed as a pair of centres and know their Jets are ready to challenge the Western Conference power elite.

Having twin towers at centre ice in the West is de rigueur. Like a snowplow in Flin Flon. Like a Benz in Beverley Hills. And if a team doesn’t have the dual horses down the middle? Well, they end up getting owned by those that do. Again and again.

In Wednesday’s 3-2 loss to the Edmonton Oilers there was lots to not like about the Jets’ game. But seeing Scheifele and Lowry in the same lineup, it was hard to not look into the future and wonder what might become the Jets’ reality.

Phil Hossack / Winipeg Free Press Towering Adam Lowry mixes it up with Edmonton's Oscar Klefbom during pre-season action at the MTS Centre Wednesday.

Scheifele, Bryan Little and Lowry could make a nice trio at centre for the Jets. Little’s game is under-rated, and despite being undersized, he’s an effective two-way player. Scheifele’s ceiling is a little higher and the Jets appear to have anointed him as their No. 1 centre at this point. Lowry is still a work in progress but he’s got off-the-charts hockey sense and he’s not afraid to get mean.

Altogether this group will give the Jets something to build around on a night-in and night-out basis.

It’s become almost a requisite for Western Conference contenders to have two centres with both size and the ability to play a 200-foot game. The Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings set the standard with four men down the middle capable of providing offence and paying attention to the defensive details that help win games. Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Jarret Stoll and Mike Richards set the standard for strength down the middle and the Kings have won two of the last three Cups.

The San Jose Sharks have Joe Thornton and Logan Couture, the Anaheim Ducks had Ryan Getzlaf and added Ryan Kesler to try and run with the pack.

Size and hockey sense are the key tools in a Western Conference centre’s belt, and Scheifele and Lowry have both. Winnipeg will one day have its twin towers and when the pair is up and running and effective, it will make this hockey team much more than it has been to date. They’ll be hard to play against and they’ll be able to control the tempo and pace of games.

Lowry has yet to play a game in the NHL and while he’s been impressive in his first two pre-season outings for the Jets, he’s no lock to make the roster. But his size is undeniable and so is the way he thinks and sees the game. It’s only a matter of time before he arrives in the NHL, and the real question is whether he’s going to be a third-line centre or if his offence can develop to the point where he’s the No. 2 man.

Scheifele isn’t done growing yet, but he’s beginning to look a lot more like a man against men rather than the boy against men we sometimes saw last year. Scheifele continues to spend his off-seasons under the tutelage of Gary Roberts, and it’s paying off in noticeable moments of strength.

Scheifele walked out from behind the net a number of times and willed his way into the slot. He still has room on his frame for some more bulk, but it’s evident he’ll one day be able to physically dominate down low.

Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff took his first draft gamble on Scheifele in 2011, determining he needed a No. 1 centre in his organization with size and a complete game. Scheifele is on the verge of being just that player, and now paired on a line with Evander Kane and Blake Wheeler, the next phase of his growth could carry him far. Jets coach Paul Maurice says he’s going to be a top-third-in-the-NHL player.

Lowry may or may not need a little more time in the AHL, but he’s going to add something to the Jets at centre they’re currently missing, and that’s some crust.

The heavier and meaner the game, the better he played last season in the AHL and really began to find his groove in the post-season. Remembering his bearded father, Dave, grind and gouge his way through 1,084 regular-season NHL games and 111 Stanley Cup playoff games might be the best way to envision the future Lowry.

Having some steel down the middle of the roster is never a bad thing.

Scheifele, Little and Lowry. No, not a law firm.

But a firm group at centre built under the law of today’s Western Conference.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

History

Updated on Thursday, September 25, 2014 8:38 AM CDT: Removes reference to Justin Williams & corrects to Jarret Stoll

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