On The Bright Side: Mark Scheifele

Perhaps the hardest luck game of the season for the Winnipeg Jets turned into a banner night for Mark Scheifele. Not that he would tell you that.

Scheifele has always been the stereotypical team-first hockey good guy, good for more than his share of cliches in interviews yet quick with a smile and always preaching the best interests of the team over his own. So the fact that he set a new career high in goals against the New York Islanders on Thursday, March 3rd (17 and counting) likely didn’t do much to improve his mood after a truly bizarre loss.

The loss was a microcosm of the Jets season in so many ways. The Isles tied the game with less than a minute left, and the winning goal in overtime went to the stick of the Isles leading scorer Kyle Okposo off the face of the Jets most promising rookie, Nikolaj Ehlers. Ehlers is now out indefinitely, just when it seemed he was really kicking into high gear and getting ready to make up for some of the ground he lost during his dismal November and December. Oh, and Anthony Peluso got hurt in the first period too. In other words, it was the Jets season summed up in a single game.

None of that is Scheifele’s fault, mind you. He did everything he could to will the offensively neutered Jets to victory, scoring two goals, the latter of which was a picturesque display of his lethal shot. This is one thing the Jets can get really excited about for the future because they don’t have a lot of genuinely dangerous snipers. While he isn’t quite at that level yet, Scheifele could soon become one, and with 13 games left to go, he seems destined to hit the 20-goal mark for the first time. He could even lead the Jets in goals.

Admittedly, the Scheifele snapper seems to come and go, to wax and wane in effectiveness as the year goes on, but this is true of most young players; at some point, they hit a wall, and with age and maturity comes a reduction in those times. It’s important to remember that Scheifele is still just 22 years old. Heck, I’m 22 years old, and I can tell you at no point before I turn 23 will I have my career as plainly laid out for me as Scheifele does. Also, I don’t skate as well. Or shoot as well. It’s the subtle differences that distinguish us.

At his best, this is what Scheifele is capable of, and since we’ve put on our rose-colored glasses to peer into the future of this organization, it’s his best that interests us.

A Future 30-Goal Man?

The Jets have not had a 30-goal scorer since their first season in Winnipeg when Evander Kane accomplished the feat, and two of the men most likely to do it for them this year (which wasn’t very likely at all) have been traded (Andrew Ladd) or shut down from the season as a result of a dirty hit (Bryan Little, and no matter what the NHL thinks that hit was dirty). At this rate, Scheifele will be the next 30-goal scorer for the Jets.

How many goals he hits this year will be interesting to see. On the one hand, he’s not as well-insulated with Little out and Ladd gone, and losing his speedy, crafty linemate Ehlers may hurt too. On the other hand, he’ll certainly get more ice time, and how could you deny it to him after his display against the Isles?

Scheifele also has the much-debated World Cup of Hockey to think about, as he’s a prime candidate to help round out the rest of the roster for Team North America. His potential inclusion on the team has to be motivating for him, and there’s no question but that he’s on their radar. Some feel he should’ve made the initial cut.

Scheifele making the World Cup of Hockey would cap off what has been a good year for him. He’s taken steps forward and grown in every way, and under the tutelage of Gary Roberts, he’s getting a little stronger every year. His defensive game is coming along (note that I did not say perfect, just coming along) and his shot is a little more impressive every game. His offense is starting to rise to the level people expected of him coming out of junior. And man, that wrist shot….

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Yes, it’s been a great year for Scheifele as an individual, and it could get even better with a berth in the World Cup. Yet for all that, if you asked Scheifele what he’s most proud of this year, his answer would be filled with disappointment about the lost season and team-first cliches.

For the Winnipeg Jets, perhaps that maturity and team oriented mind are the most encouraging things about Scheifele. And that’s saying something.