Mark Scheifele referred to himself on Friday as still being a little kid. In some ways that sums up the Jets as a team and an organization.

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Opinion

Mark Scheifele referred to himself on Friday as still being a little kid. In some ways that sums up the Jets as a team and an organization.

The young centreman is the first player Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff drafted, making Scheifele the perfect barometer for where this organization sits today — on its way, but with lots of room for improvement.

Young Jets centre should only get stronger, better.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Young Jets centre should only get stronger, better.

The Jets were a good story for 82 games of the regular season and pushed their way into the playoffs. But a four-game sweep at the hands of the Anaheim Ducks showed the Jets still come up short in a number of ways. The physical aspect of it is one thing, but it’s the mental edge the Ducks showed the Jets are still trying to gain.

There was a moment during Game 4 when Ducks centre Ryan Kesler emerged from the middle of a scrum and Scheifele chased after him, jawing away at his opponent. Kesler ignored him, as if to say he wasn’t going to give Scheifele the respect of recognizing his chirp.

Respect in the NHL has to be earned. Scheifele’s just beginning. Same as the Jets.

The Jets invested lots of sweat into their progression as a team. They began to play like men in the regular season, more intent on winning games than scoring points.

Scheifele has talked about wanting to be a 200-foot player and it’s in him to make that happen. Certainly, he needs to get bigger, but he also has to become more confident, more driven and, dare we say it, more like Kesler.

Kesler plays with the ultimate air of confidence and with the willingness to do what must be done to complete a job. Some will say he cheats, some will say he’s crafty. Whatever it is, it works. Being a Boy Scout doesn’t add up to wins in the NHL.

Scheifele had an impressive second regular season in the NHL, notching 15 goals and 49 points. His ice time and role increased, as did the quality of players he played with and against.

But he was made to look very ordinary in the post-season against two of the top centres in the NHL — Ryan Getzlaf and Kesler. Again, not much different than the Jets as a whole.

The question with Scheifele and the rest of the Jets, is where is the ceiling? How much better can Scheifele get, how long will it take him to get there and what does he need to do to get there.

"I think that’s just learning the game. Obviously, it’s going to ramp up and it’s tough change from the regular season to the playoffs, but that’s something you want to learn from, and obviously, I learned a lot from these four games I played in the playoffs," the 22-year-old said Friday.

"I’m still a little kid. I still want to get stronger in all areas of my body. You look at my body and I’m still a little skinny guy that isn’t the strongest, but you know, I’ve been working hard at it and I know I’ve seen such tremendous progress over the last two years and I’m excited to have another summer under my belt and continue to get stronger."

Scheifele’s improvement has been steady as an NHL player. He struggled early in his rookie season and then began to take off mid-season before suffering a knee injury down the stretch.

In his second season he was more consistent and once coach Paul Maurice put him on a line between Blake Wheeler and Drew Stafford he began to take off.

"You look at the time when Bryan (Little) went down especially, and both (Scheifele) and Adam (Lowry), played a number one role, I think he excelled in that. We’re hopeful in some ways, that Mark Scheifele’s struggles against Getzlaf and Kesler (indicate) when he’s their age, the guy that he’s playing against will struggle against him," said Maurice.

"Great experience for him. We play as a line and we play as a group of five and as a team, so we want to be careful about that, but we’ve got a guy in his second year in the NHL that played in the two hole for the bulk of the year... at times was our number one guy. But he will feel the way we all feel. That it just wasn’t good enough in the end. It doesn’t mean that it won’t be or won’t get better. I’m excited about where he’s at."

Scheifele was impressed with what Getzlaf and Kesler bring to the game.

"They play an all-around game, they play hard on you every shift, there’s no easy ice," said Scheifele. "I think that’s the big thing I learned in playoffs, is that there is no easy ice, it’s tough to create space, it’s tough to get to the net, especially against guys like that. Face-offs are harder and more important too, it’s the whole array of hockey."

The whole array of hockey is a good phrase to describe the improvements Scheifele and the Jets must make together.

A self-admitted gym rat, Scheifele’s going to do whatever it takes to get his body where it needs to be for him to be a top-tier centre in the NHL. That’s going to happen. Guaranteed. But there’s also mental growth required.

The race-car driver who goes the fastest down the straightaways doesn’t always win the race. Scheifele, and the Jets as a whole, got a look at a team in the Ducks that knows how to corner, when to pit and when to push the opponent up against the wall in the turns.

They used to say, "rubbin’ is racin’," and leaving a swatch of your fender’s paint on the other guy’s was part of the game.

Scheifele’s body will soon morph from a kid’s to a man’s. Weights and work will take care of that. The mental part? That comes with time and living through the tough moments.

Those moments have now begun. For Scheifele and all the Jets.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @garylawless