Jets’ Scheifele Can Thrive Under Rick Bowness

It has been well documented by those who observed the Winnipeg Jets on a daily basis last season that Mark Scheifele and the Jets’ team-oriented structure didn’t get along well. Simply put, he was a defensive liability who seemed oblivious to that fact. Under new head coach Rick Bowness, that is going to have to change for them to have the rebound season they’re aiming for.

Scheifele Needs to Buy Into Defensive Play

Last season, Scheifele’s plus/minus rating was a minus-17 and the worst on the team. This was from the team’s number one centre who was a legitimate offensive star with 70 points in just 67 games while averaging over 21 minutes of ice-time each game. Numbers like that shouldn’t translate to being a defensive liability.

No one but Scheifele can honestly say why he had a subpar defensive season. Was he affected by Paul Maurice quitting in December? It was pretty evident that he was one of his favourites and that Maurice held him in higher esteem than others, as he was rarely held accountable for his poor play.

The 28-year-old has gone from the golden boy around here — a prized player Paul Maurice once predicted would have a statue built in his honour outside the downtown arena — to a perplexing shell of his former self.

Mike McIntyre (from ‘Scheifele a shell of former self,’ Winnipeg Free Press, 2/2/22)

Was it that he didn’t like Dave Lowry as interim head coach? Lowry did hold him accountable. In late January, Scheifele claimed the Jets had talent but no identity. Two days later, he went on to play simply awful in St. Louis and was benched for the final four minutes of the game after a late third-period giveaway (his third of the game), which led directly to a Blues scoring chance.

Related: Jets’ Offseason Drama? Scheifele & Stastny Set the Stage

Whatever the reason or reasons his defensive play was abysmal, it affected his attitude and the attitude of his teammates, as Paul Stastny so eloquently elaborated on during his season exit soliloquy.

Scheifele Should Benefit Under a Bowness-Driven System

Rick Bowness is a defensively-driven coach which is exactly what the Jets need. Recently they have been one of the worst teams in the NHL at keeping the puck out of the net, even with one of the league’s best goaltenders in Connor Hellebuyck between the pipes. Over the past two seasons, they were also 24th in shots against at 32.1 per game and their penalty kill was 21st in the NHL at 80.3% effectiveness. Those numbers simply aren’t good enough for a team that has the roster depth to make a playoff run every season.

Rick Bowness Dallas Stars
Rick Bowness, the new head coach of the Winnipeg Jets (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Scheifele has shown in the past that he can thrive under such a system. In 2017-18, he had a plus/minus rating of plus-19, a season the Jets were known for their physical play and defensive prowess. Kyle Connor is a perfect example of how defensive play can lead to offensive opportunities, as last season’s Lady Byng Trophy winner set career highs in both goals and points (47 goals, 46 assists, 93 points) while logging more time on the penalty kill and being more responsible and dependable in his own zone.

Johnny Gaudreau of the Calgary Flames could be the prototype that Scheifele models himself after. He was once labelled as a one-way player, who under a new coach in Darryl Sutter adjusted his game for the better after an entire team defensive overhaul. Last season he amassed 115 points, with 36 goals and 69 assists to his credit after accepting Sutter’s defence-first mentality and was a big reason the Flames returned to prominence in 2021-22.

Scheifele can do the same for the Jets in 2022-23 if he accepts the new coach and returns to being the leader he was touted to be by Maurice. He has shown he can play a defensive role in the past, however, he will need to show that he can buy into Bowness’ system this fall. If he chooses to accept his new responsibilities, I think he can score even more than the point-per-game pace he set last season.

Scheifele Needs to Lead the Jets

If the Jets are to return to the playoffs and succeed to the level they show on paper, it’s going to require a shift in Scheifele’s mentality and attitude, as there was a lot of evidence that he was less than engaged in playing the team’s system last season. He also seemed to be more concerned about his individual play and stats than contributing to a 5-on-5 game.

Scheifele’s defensive commitment will be one of Bowness’ biggest tests, just as Scheifele’s offensive ability will be one of his biggest gifts.

Murat Ates (from ‘Winnipeg Jets players with most to gain or lose under Rick Bowness as coach,’ The Athletic, 02/07/2022)

Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn was asked about Bowness’ style of coaching compared to his previous coach Lindy Ruff’s and was quoted as saying, “What I’ve learned from the two is that defence will win you a lot more games, scoring is fun but it didn’t get us very far. Since kind of when Bones came in here, as an assistant and now obviously as a head coach, we focus more on our team game, playing good defence. When you do that, you’re going to get enough chances to score” (from ‘Examining the Stars’ offensive system: What works, what doesn’t and how it compares to the NHL’s elite,’ The Athletic, 13/02/2022).

Mark Scheifele Winnipeg Jets
Mark Scheifele needs to buy into the new system under Bowness. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Scheifele, if he allows it to happen, will benefit from playing in and adopting Bowness’ 5-on-5 system. He needs to understand that defence can create offence and if he can buy into the new system, the benefits will be found both in the win column as well as his individual stat line. He should put the team first, and as disgruntled as he was at the end of last season, he needs to put the past behind him and look forward to what could be a prosperous season for him in 2022-23.

I know there has been plenty of talk about moving Scheifele in the offseason and starting a new Jets era without him. However, I don’t think that’s going to happen. He has two years left on a team-friendly deal and he simply is too valuable to move and immediately replace his offensive prowess with someone else. I am certain he can thrive under Bowness’ defensive system and lead the Jets into the playoffs as he has in the past. He himself said he’s in the prime of his career. I agree, he just needs to buy what the new coaching staff is selling and become the leader he was only a couple of seasons ago.

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