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Scheifele champing at playoff bit after early exit in 2015

Winnipeg Jets' Mark Scheifele (55) takes a shot during a round one playoff practice in Winnipeg on Monday, April 9, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods</p>

Winnipeg Jets' Mark Scheifele (55) takes a shot during a round one playoff practice in Winnipeg on Monday, April 9, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Mark Scheifele was still finding his way as a second-year centre when he was thrust into a prominent role as the Winnipeg Jets met the battle-tested Anaheim Ducks in the opening round of the 2015 NHL playoffs

The results of that series — a four-game sweep by the Bruce Boudreau-coached Ducks — have been well-documented.

What's not immediately considered by long-suffering Jets supporters is the supply of hockey know-how and precious experience gained by an up-and-coming superstar such as Scheifele following that hard-fought playoff expulsion.

The Kitchener, Ont., product maintains he learned plenty during the Jets' first and only trip to the playoffs since NHL hockey returned to the Manitoba capital.

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Mark Scheifele was still finding his way as a second-year centre when he was thrust into a prominent role as the Winnipeg Jets met the battle-tested Anaheim Ducks in the opening round of the 2015 NHL playoffs

The results of that series — a four-game sweep by the Bruce Boudreau-coached Ducks — have been well-documented.

What's not immediately considered by long-suffering Jets supporters is the supply of hockey know-how and precious experience gained by an up-and-coming superstar such as Scheifele following that hard-fought playoff expulsion.

The Kitchener, Ont., product maintains he learned plenty during the Jets' first and only trip to the playoffs since NHL hockey returned to the Manitoba capital.

"I think it was my second year... so, still young in the game. But (I) learned a lot from those four games and leading up to that and seeing what it takes to play against (the Ducks). Anaheim was a great team and still are. But you learn a lot," Scheifele said Tuesday afternoon, following practice at the Iceplex.

Winnipeg meets the Minnesota Wild in Game 1 of their best-of-seven first-round series Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Bell MTS Place.

The Jets (52-20-10, 114 points) finished second to the Nashville Predators not only in the Central Division and Western Conference but also in the entire 31-team NHL.

Scheifele, 25, who centres Winnipeg's top line of right-winger and team captain Blake Wheeler and rookie left-winger Kyle Connor, said he picked up valuable insights while waging war with stalwart Ducks forwards Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler and Corey Perry.

"You see what it takes. You watch the Getzlafs, you watch the Perrys, those guys that have been through the grind," said Scheifele, who was up the middle with Wheeler and Drew Stafford on the wings during the '15 series. "They've succeeded in pretty much all aspects of their game, whether it's the Stanley Cup playoffs or Olympics, world championships, whatever it is. You see what those guys do every single night and you try to take that."

Scheifele's a self-professed hockey nerd and doesn't squander opportunities to absorb what the game's very best demonstrate.

"You watch the (Sidney) Crosbys of the world win two straight Cups, you watch their game, you see what they do. You play against them and you see what he does differently and then you continue to grow yourself as a player, grow yourself as a person, and that's always what I've tried to do," he said. "Game 1 is another experience and, hopefully, I can learn."

Scheifele was headed toward an all-star calibre season but was forced to miss 16 games after suffering an upper-body injury against the Edmonton Oilers on Dec. 27. He returned Feb. 9 but was back on the shelf for another six games after hurting his shoulder in New York against the Rangers March 6.

The 6-3, 207-pound Jets alternate captain, who finished his fifth season with 23 goals and 60 points, said he's pumped for a playoff matchup with the Wild (45-26-11), the third-place team in the Central.

He's tossing out suggestions that Winnipeg is the clear favourite.

"It's playoffs, it doesn't matter. Every team's good in this league. You see that throughout the whole year, you see that in the Western Conference, especially in our division," said Scheifele. "Every team is so talented and so good. Whatever teams brings it on any given night is going to win it."

Jets shut-down centre Adam Lowry, a rookie during the Winnipeg-Anaheim series, said Scheifele has emerged as a player who can impact the direction of a series.

"As he’s matured, he’s gotten stronger and now you look at the chemistry he has with Blake and Kyle, with what they’re able to do, he’s able to dominate," said Lowry. "He’s such a strong skater and he’s so strong on the puck, he’s able to maintain possession for such long stretches of time. He’s able to impact the play in his own end. With his experience, every part of his game has improved, both away from the puck and with the puck.

"We’re really happy to have him on our team. We certainly missed him when he was out. I know our team was still finding ways to win, but he’s a dynamic player and he can change a game on one shift. We’re looking for him to continue doing that coming up here."

The Jets need his escalating skills to shine at crunch time.

Head coach Paul Maurice leaned heavily on Scheifele during the regular season, in both ends of the rink, five-on-five and on special teams. He's averaged 20:40 of ice time this year is expected to be a workhorse against Minnesota.

"He’s been drawing either the best checker or the best offensive centreman for the last two-and-a-half years. It’s all a body of work for him now. He knows how to play against both styles and he’s certainly been able to excel against both styles. Nothing changes for him," said Maurice.

"There’s a standard curve for some players coming in defensively and he’s certainly on that. But the offensive part of his game... Mark’s ability to produce and create at the right times, that would be the area that has made him elite. He’s a pretty conscientious guy, he’s going to play hard defensively. All young players get better at that part of the game, but only the most skilled guys can develop an offensive game to where Mark has gotten his."

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
Assistant sports editor

Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).

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