Despite leading the Winnipeg Jets in points by a sizable margin over a COVID-shortened 56-game regular season in 2021, there were parts of Mark Scheifele's game that left even the player himself wanting more.
Scheifele scored 21 goals, four of which proved to be game-winners, and added 42 assists for 63 points. That was 13 more points than the next top scorer, linemate Kyle Connor, who played in the same number of games. It was also Scheifele's fifth straight season averaging at least a point per game, dating back to the 2016-17 campaign – the first of an eight-year, $US49-million contract that expires at the end of 2023-24.
While there's no debating his offence, something the Jets certainly expect from their No. 1 centreman, Scheifele knows there's more to give in other areas, including in the defensive zone. He isn't looking to lose his touch around the net; on the contrary, he wants to continue scoring points, he just knows if he's going to be viewed among the NHL's top stars he has to solidify other areas of his game.
"I look at myself as kind of being in the prime of my career and you want your team to be in that stage as well," Scheifele, who turned 28 in March, said following the Jets second on-ice training-camp session at the Iceplex Friday. "We have all the pieces to be a contender in this league and, for me, it's that all-around game."
He added: "I get paid to produce but at the same time my biggest thought this offseason was how do I round out my game?"
Scheifele didn't have a smooth ending to last season. With the Jets trailing the Montreal Canadiens by a goal late in Game 1 of their second-round playoff series, Scheifele delivered a violent check to Montreal forward Jake Evans just as he was blindly wrapping the puck into an empty net. Evans was concussed from the hit and, after a meeting with the NHL's Department of Player Safety, Scheifele was given a four-game suspension.
The Jets were ultimately swept in the best-of-seven series, meaning Scheifele will be held out of Winnipeg's season-opener in Anaheim against the Ducks on Oct. 13. Scheifele was clearly unhappy with the punishment and lashed out at the NHL and media for what he thought was unfair treatment.
When asked about the hit on Friday, he preferred not to go down that road, instead shifting to a roster that had a notable makeover on the blue line with the additions of Nate Schmidt and Brenden Dillon. One can only assume someone as dedicated to the game as Scheifele is, he would have used whatever anger didn't subside from the fallout of the hit to put it into his offseason workouts.
"It was a lot of skating, a lot of working out, some golf mixed in between," Scheifele said. "I'm a pretty simple guy; all I need is my loved ones around me and that's all that matters."
Scheifele usually prefers to spend his offseason training in the U.S., but with strict travel restrictions owing to the coronavirus he spent a lot of time in Calgary over the summer, where teammates Adam Lowry and Josh Morrissey were also situated. On the ice, he had a specific focus on face-offs and coverage in the defensive zone.
Scheifele won 49.8 per cent of his faceoffs last season and is at 45.8 per cent over his eight-year NHL career. Playing defence, particularly in his own end, has been a struggle for the last couple of seasons — likely, at least in part, because of how often he's relied on in the offensive zone. Consider: more than 70 per cent of Scheifele’s shifts started in the offensive zone last year.
While aiming to become one of the best players in the NHL is what drives Scheifele, there's another strong motivator that looms large and should have him even more committed to finding another level in his game. Scheifele is trying to crack the Canadian roster that will be vying for gold at the 2022 Olympics in Beijing.
Scheifele has always dreamed of donning the maple leaf for his country and with the NHL allowing players to return to next year's event, consider No. 55 all-in when it comes to making a strong impression.
"Obviously, that's in the back of my mind every single day," Scheifele said, "and it just gives you that extra motivation to be better and better for the Winnipeg Jets."
Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has seen Scheifele mature in each season since drafting the Kitchener, Ont. native with the team's first draft pick — 7th overall in 2011 — since relocating from Atlanta that year. He, too, believes Scheifele can find another gear, and take on more responsibility as part of the Jets leadership core.
"His work ethic and his training is legendary as far as what he does and his knowledge of the game," Cheveldayoff said. "He’s a guy that’s very driven and very motivated. I think there are still levels of his game that he’s still achieving."
Scheifele is well-liked and respected by his teammates. When Dillon was acquired by the Jets in a trade with the Washington Capitals, he said Scheifele was the first player to reach out.
The two had spent time together in previous off seasons, on and off the ice. He sees a determined player who has the skillset and hockey IQ to take a team deep into the playoffs. Now teammates, he's eager to see it up close, as the Jets battle for the Stanley Cup as one of the contenders in the Central Division.
"When you think of the Winnipeg Jets, you think of Mark Scheifele," Dillon said. "The amount of success he's had as a player and now he has grown into a leader on this team over the last few years. He just continues to get better and better each year. When you've got guys like that that are kind of in the Olympic conversation for Canada, you see him in these scrimmages and practices how hard he is to defend against, it's pretty exciting to be playing on his team now instead of having to defend against him."
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.