Jets Need Scheifele & Wheeler to Step Up for Playoffs Stretch

The NHL trade deadline has come and gone, and the Winnipeg Jets have made a few changes, most notably sending forward Andrew Copp to the New York Rangers. This piece will look at what the Jets need to do moving forward now that the deadline has passed. The fact remains that they are still in a playoff race, and there are a few teams ahead of them that are faltering. The leadership of the team needs to stand and be accountable.

Winnipeg Jets Mark Scheifele Blake Wheeler
Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler are the key to a Jets’ playoff run.(THE CANADIAN PRESS/Trevor Hagan)

Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler are the faces of the organization — they wear an ‘A’ and ‘C,’ respectively, and the last time I checked most successful NHL teams follow their captains, not succeed despite them. If the Jets are to gain the last available playoff spot, they need these two to step up in the final 19 games of the season.

Related: Jets’ Trade Deadline a Success Thanks to Cheveldayoff’s Logical Moves

The Jets are currently eight points behind the Nashville Predators but more importantly three points behind the Dallas Stars for the final wild card spot. Between them and the Stars are the Vegas Golden Knights who have hit hard times and are 3-7 in their last 10 games. So the crux of it is, the Jets will have to surpass both these teams to find themselves in the playoffs. The real dilemma for the Jets is that they only have 18 games in which to leapfrog them and that won’t be an easy task, while the Stars have 20 games left to play. They have two games in hand over the Jets of which none are against Winnipeg, so the math very much favours Dallas at this point. Can the Jets make a run and surge past these two teams? Absolutely. It is however, going to require some improved results from their two most notable forwards.

Scheifele and Wheeler Had Rough Starts

In the Jets’ final 19 games, captain Wheeler needs to be the intense, almost angry winger that fans have become accustomed to over his 11 years in Winnipeg. He has had an off season, and at 35 years old has slightly lost a step but has been very effective at times this year. Dealing with COVID-19 early in the season, followed by a knee injury that kept him out of the lineup for six weeks, he didn’t score his first goal until Dec. 10 and had amassed a dismal (by his standards) 20 points in 28 games prior to the All-Star Break. He has scored 22 points (8 G, 21 A) in the 22 games since the break and at times has been the Jets’ best forward.

Blake Wheeler Winnipeg Jets
Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Scheifele had to deal with a similar start to the season. He missed the season opener as he was completing a four-game suspension from the last year’s playoffs and like Wheeler tested positive for COVID and was in NHL’s protocol in October. He too struggled to score early in the season notching his first goal on Nov. 13 against the Los Angeles Kings, but like Wheeler has also been very productive since the All-Star break with 28 points (14 G, 14 A) in 22 games.

The question is what more can these two guys do? They are currently scoring at more than a point per game pace and the Jets are currently 7-3-1 in the month of March. These two are the faces of the franchise and have both been integral parts of the club since its return to the Manitoba capital. Wheeler was named captain prior to the 2016-17 season, and Scheifele was the first-ever draft pick of the Winnipeg Jets 2.0 in June of 2011. For the past nine seasons they have been at the forefront of the Jets offence and are being paid accordingly.

Leadership Needs to Lead Into the Playoffs

In terms of on-ice leadership, Scheifele and Wheeler have inadvertently been surpassed by Kyle Connor and Pierre-Luc Dubois. Those two have played well consistently day-in and day-out. I can’t point out a specific game where those two have played a bad game, and yet that tag has been placed on Scheifele and Wheeler more than once this season.

Wheeler understandably has been rehabilitating a serious injury and these things take time, but Scheifele has been the target of media and fans alike for his lack of desire and attention to defensive responsibilities. Yet the two average over 20 minutes of ice-time per game, absorb 18.6 percent of the team’s salary cap and are still listed as the team’s top line along with winger Paul Stastny. If they’re going to be given that monicker and earn nearly one-fifth of the entire team’s payroll, then in the last 19 games of the year these two need to step up their game. I’m not suggesting they go on a point-scoring tear and fill the net every night, but scoring six points in two games and then going three games with no offence on the score sheet is definitely a recipe for failure. The Jets are going to need some scoring in almost every game all the way to the end of the season.

Mark Scheifele Winnipeg Jets
Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Critics will say they are already scoring at a point per-game pace, but my retort would be that it hasn’t been, much like the Jets’ season, nearly consistent enough. Also being a scorer means you have defensive responsibilities and as Connor and Dubois have shown, being a two-way player often leads to offensive opportunities. Connor has vastly improved his defensive play, is a penalty-kill regular and is having a career year. Dubois is on pace to break his personal best in goals, and no one would argue his effectiveness in the defensive zone.

As Wheeler and Scheifele go, so too go the Jets. They definitely have the ability to make a run, but they haven’t won more than two games in a row since Jan. 4. That needs to change and it starts with their two most prominent forwards. If they play a more consistent, 200-foot game, then the Jets have a chance to overtake the Stars and Golden Knights. If they don’t, it’ll cap and amplify what has already been a frustrating and disappointing season for both players and fans alike.

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