When general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff announced the Winnipeg Jets’ inaugural selection with the seventh overall pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, it was met with a fair share of criticism along with confusion.
It was apparent that the former Atlanta Thrashers franchise was in desperate need of a first-line centre, but the unexpected announcement at the podium of lanky Barrie Colts centreman Mark Scheifele was not guaranteed to be that guy.
With only one season of junior hockey under his belt, Central Scouting Services had Scheifele ranked 16th among Canadian skaters, which included seven centres ranked ahead of him.
Scheifele made his way to the stage and pulled a temporary NHL jersey over his head because the Jets had not even released a logo yet.
Now seven years later, Scheifele has a real jersey with a crest to be proud of on the front, and one that is feared around the league.
Mark Scheifele: Adapt or Die
The only other appearance that the Jets 2.0 made in the postseason was a deceiving sweep by the Anaheim Ducks in 2015 that saw every game played closely; however, the results were disappointing.
Scheifele failed to find the back of the net in that series and picked up one measly assist. If we have learned anything about the Jets’ 6-foot-3 superstar, it is that when he sees an area where he needs improvement, he makes it his strength.
Now in his second postseason effort, Scheifele has a league-leading eight goals while playing the best hockey of his young career. Regarded as a student of the game, Scheifele does a ton of work off the ice, watching as much hockey as possible because every time he could learn something new about a team or a player.
“His first year we had him do a pre-scout of the other team before the game. Mark could give you a pre-scout of every team in the NHL, what players’ tendencies were,” says head coach Paul Maurice.
After a dominant first-round series against the Minnesota Wild, Scheifele and the Jets’ competition grew as their next opponent would be the best from the regular season, Nashville Predators.
Proven Playoff Performer
Each game the Kitchener, Ontario native plays in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs becomes the biggest game of his life. The kind of performance Scheifele is demonstrating can only remind Jets fans of one name from the past, and that is their golden boy, Dale Hawerchuk, who was coincidentally his coach with the Colts.
“Everything I do in my game, a lot of it was taught to me by Dale. He probably taught me a new thing, whether it was on the ice or off the ice, every day. He was huge in helping me take my game to the next level,” said the Jets’ alternate captain back in 2016.
Hawerchuk isn’t the only former star player Scheifele takes advice from. He is also a student of skills coach Adam Oates and trains under Gary Roberts, who helps with the fitness and nutrition side.
Mark Scheifele coming up big in a big game. Where I have seen this before? Oh yeah, four goals in the third period in the OHL finals against London. That's where.
— Gene Pereira (@GenePereira1) April 30, 2018
Throughout the regular season, the Jets and Predators’ Central Division rivalry provided some of the best games all year. These were fueled by the matchup of Scheifele against defenseman P.K. Subban, a continued trend through the first two contests in their second-round series so far.
The first game saw the Predators dominate most of the game and shot count; however, it was the Jets coming up on top as they dug their way into the head of Pekka Rinne.
Game 2 was a masterpiece from the perspective of most hockey fans, with an abundance of goals, hits and pleasantries after the whistle. While the Jets ramped their game up, it was not enough as the Predators won in double overtime.
Scheifele has arguably been the best player for either team in the two Nashville home games, picking up four goals. With the next two at their home rink, the Bell MTS Place, the Jets need him to continue his torrid pace.