In the old days of the franchise now known as the Winnipeg Jets, if Gary Bettman shook your hand on the stage at the NHL Entry Draft it meant a direct route to the big club. It won't be that easy for Mark Scheifele.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/9/2011 (3904 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Opinion

In the old days of the franchise now known as the Winnipeg Jets, if Gary Bettman shook your hand on the stage at the NHL Entry Draft it meant a direct route to the big club. It won't be that easy for Mark Scheifele.

The last three first-round picks of the Jets franchise, formerly known as the Atlanta Thrashers, went straight from the draft to the NHL. It was a foregone conclusion from the moment their name was called.

‘That’s a big thing for me, to show I can play against older guys and battle through the tough trenches of the NHL’ — Jets draft pick Mark Scheifele

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS

‘That’s a big thing for me, to show I can play against older guys and battle through the tough trenches of the NHL’ — Jets draft pick Mark Scheifele

Zach Bogosian (2008), Evander Kane (2009) and Alexander Burmistrov (2010) all made the quick trip to the Thrashers and NHL money without any seasoning. To date, the results have been OK, but none has made a major impact as a big-leaguer.

The Thrashers needed to sell tickets and having their young prospects in the lineup was viewed as a way to create energy and buzz.

Scheifele, selected in the first round and seventh overall by the Jets at this summer's draft, won't have the advantage of the organization needing to stir up attention in his bid to make the club.

"I have to show them I can be here and that my body is ready and that I'm mentally ready as well," said Scheifele, 18. "That's a big thing for me, to show I can play against older guys and battle through the tough trenches of the NHL. They want to be strong on development and don't want to push someone too early. But if you're ready, you can play. But it's definitely different than it was in Atlanta. I've been told if I'm one of the top four centres, I'll stay."

It will strictly be a hockey decision where Scheifele is concerned. He'll need to be better than his predecessors were. In a word, Scheifele will need to be unreturnable.

To this point, he's off to strong start. He was the club's best player at the Young Stars tournament in Penticton last week and arguably the best skater on all five teams taking part.

On Sunday, Scheifele scored in the first scrimmage of Jets camp and stood out among his new NHL peers. Keep in mind, however, he's well ahead of the competition in terms of training, as he's been at camp with Canada's junior team and then took part in games at the Young Stars event. Most of the Jets were skating in their first scrimmage of the year.

"It will be based on performance and that will be the key. How he plays in the games. You have to look to see not only how he's going to be in October, but also in January and February. You have to look at more than the moment," said coach Claude Noel. "But the way he's played so far, he's certainly helped himself. He's played real well. He's scoring all the time and he's an effective player. We'll have to wait and see how he does in the games."

Jets management won't have the marketing department looking over their shoulders while making final roster decisions.

GM Kevin Cheveldayoff made it clear on Sunday his team will be picked on what's best in regards to wins and losses and nothing else.

"Everybody on this team will make it just on hockey and not where they were picked," he said. "It's not about rushing anyone and there's no mandate that says 'you must get this player in the lineup.' From my perspective and Claude's, when the player is ready to play, we'll find a spot for him to play."

Cheveldayoff wants the Jets to work off a blueprint and not plan on the fly.

"Ultimately, we would like the luxury of having enough depth in our organization to not be forced. We're going to look to establish a culture and depth in the organization where players have to earn their opportunity and when they do, it's because they're ready and not because there are holes in the lineup," he said.

In the end, the Jets are aiming to make it hard for draft picks to step right into the lineup. Top-end teams have rosters that are too strong and only cracked by the most special of rookies.

Maybe Scheifele is of that calibre.

But he'll have to show it. Freebies are a thing of the past.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca