If Mark Scheifele falls victim this season to the 'sophomore jinx' -- a tendency in pro athletes to regress off an above-average rookie season -- it won't be because Scheifele failed to put in the work.

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This article was published 7/10/2014 (2611 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

If Mark Scheifele falls victim this season to the 'sophomore jinx' -- a tendency in pro athletes to regress off an above-average rookie season -- it won't be because Scheifele failed to put in the work.

The Winnipeg Jets centre spent last summer once again working out with former NHLer -- and fitness guru -- Gary Roberts. Scheifele says he ate what Roberts told him to eat, drank what Roberts told him to drink and lifted all the weights and ran and cycled all the kilometres that Roberts demanded.

"I trained my hardest and I gave it my all," said Scheifele. "I stuck to the gameplan Gary set aside for me and I stuck to it all summer. I made huge gains and I listened to him. I ate the right food, I drank the right water, just did everything I could to put the best things in my body and make myself the strongest and fastest I could be."

Well, did it work? We'll let Jets centre Bryan Little report back.

"He was one of the best in our on-ice fitness test," Little said after practice at the MTS Iceplex on Tuesday. "You could really tell he'd put in the work over the summer and got a lot stronger."

It's no coincidence all the extra work Scheifele put in this summer comes after what was a breakout first full year in the NHL in 2013-14. He says he's well aware of the regression other athletes have had after big rookie years and he says he was determined not to make the same mistakes they did.

"I don't think I took a day off in the summer. That (sophomore jinx) happens if you get comfortable and complacent with where you are. And this summer I took the attitude of wanting to be the best player. Last year wasn't good enough, this year has to be better. And the next year has to be even better.

"That's how (Sidney) Crosby did it. That's how (Jonathan) Toews did it. That's why they are where they are today. They work their hardest every day, even though they're already the best players in the league. And my attitude is just to be one of them -- and to be better than them."

Pardon? Better than Toews and Crosby? You sure you want to venture out on that limb, junior? "You always have to strive for the highest," Scheifele explained. "That's the way they were. I'm sure when they were young they looked at guys like (Steve) Yzerman and (Mario) Lemieux and said, 'I want to be better than them.'

"Obviously, they're idols, just like those guys are idols to me. But you want to strive to be better than them."

That's an insanely high bar to set for a 21-year-old with the grand total of 35 points in 74 lifetime games in the NHL. But Little, to name just one, doesn't think it's so crazy to think Scheifele will one day be among the NHL's elites.

"He is young still and it is only his second year," Little said. "But when I think about him, I think he's going to be a star in this league. I think everyone in this room who's seen him play thinks he's going to be something special...

"He's always had skill. It was evident from the first time I saw him that he had skill, he had hands, he could shoot the puck. But it seems like every year, he's just gotten all-around better at everything."

All of which brings us to this coming season. Scheifele will start the regular season anchoring a line between Blake Wheeler -- Winnipeg's leading scorer last season -- and Evander Kane, the man the Jets are hoping will one day assume that mantle.

The line showed spectacular chemistry in Winnipeg's final pre-season game last Saturday, a 4-1 win over Calgary in which the trio contributed on three of Winnipeg's four goals and was by far the best line on the ice all night long.

Jets head coach Paul Maurice was reluctant on Tuesday to choose a No. 1 line between the Scheifele trio and the line Little is anchoring between Andrew Ladd and Michael Frolik. "I'm not sure it's defined," said Maurice, "or it needs to be."

Maybe not. But if Scheifele is going to live his dream of being the top centre in the NHL one day, he's going to first have to be the top centre on the Jets.

Maurice may still be reluctant to define it. But it appears Scheifele is determined to define it for him.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @PaulWiecek

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Paul Wiecek

Paul Wiecek
Reporter (retired)

Paul Wiecek was born and raised in Winnipeg’s North End and delivered the Free Press -- 53 papers, Machray Avenue, between Main and Salter Streets -- long before he was first hired as a Free Press reporter in 1989.