Should Scheifele Be the Jets next Captain?

When Mark Scheifele became a Winnipeg Jet, the team name had been announced only seconds before and the logo still hadn’t been designed. Now, five years later, both he and the franchise have come a long way.

Scheifele was the first player ever drafted by the Jets, the beginning of a long and winding road through the draft-and-develop process that’s brought the Jets to the brink of respectability after years of pain and early ends to the season. Now, both the Jets franchise and the first player ever to be drafted by them are on the verge of big things.

Scheifele had always had the assets to be a top-tier centre in the NHL. His size, speed, vision and shot gave him all the tools and a world of potential, but last year he put it all together in a big way and added strength thanks in part to conditioning coach Gary Roberts. He set a career high in goals and points and fell just shy of the 30-goal plateau, which he would surely have hit had he played all 82 games. He also put up 32 points in his final 25 games and led the NHL in scoring during that span.

With the Jets’ first ever pick maturing before their eyes and forming a big part of one of the NHL’s deadliest lines with Blake Wheeler and Nikolaj Ehlers, the team’s brain trust agreed to a massive contract extension with the 23-year-old, signing him to an 8-year, $49 million contract. They weren’t shy about admitting they were happy about this.

Given Scheifele’s strong upward progression points wise and his impressive underlying numbers, it’s easy to see why. It’s been onwards and upwards for the young man for most of his NHL career so far, so what does he do to surpass last year’s impressive feats? Earn a captaincy, perhaps?

On the Ice

A captain needs to be a presence both on and off the ice, but a good presence on the ice, a strong work ethic, and a lead-by-example mentality will carry a player far further than any amount of chest-thumping in the dressing room; witness one of the most effective captains in NHL history, Joe Sakic, who was a pretty quiet guy but who led with his actions. Scheifele may not have Sakic’s world-beating wrist shot but he has the goods to lead the same way.

Scheifele’s game has grown every year since he joined the Jets, and he’s getting better all the time. He’s not a purely offensive force either. His defensive game has matured by leaps and bounds, and he’s starting to use his enviable frame and increased strength to his advantage. Scheifele used to get knocked down on the ice so frequently that Jets fans started their own “Scheifele down” counter, and he drew some unflattering comparisons to Bambi. Now he’s learned to throw his weight around, and he’s the one knocking people over.

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An NHL captain is expected to more than just score, and while nobody will confuse Scheifele with board-rattling forwards like Milan Lucic, he has bought into the Jets more physical, hard-forechecking style. His size and speed make him ideally suited for forechecking, and his reach and defensive awareness help him on the backcheck. By the end of the year, the Jets even had him killing penalties.

As for the offense, the Jets knew when they drafted him they were drafting a scorer, and every year he’s shown them a little bit more of the player they envisioned. Last year he was thrown into the fire when Bryan Little got hurt, and he responded with an offensive explosion. Scheifele went from a promising future prospect to the present and future of the Jet’s attack up the middle, and with goals like these, it’s no wonder.

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As the video shows (credit to SAP highlights for the montage), Scheifele can score any way you like, whether it be off the rush, off the cycle, or on the power play. And a player who can dominate on both sides of the puck the way he can is a strong candidate for a vacant captaincy, and a home-grown captain might be the best thing for the Jets. On the ice, Scheifele has made a strong case.

Off the Ice

Captaincy is twofold in the NHL. The best player or leading scorer on a team is not always the captain, though this does often happen. Can a young player like Scheifele command respect in a dressing room?

Recent history shows us that young players can indeed do just that, whether it be Gabe Landeskog or Jonathan Toews. Scheifele’s example on the ice, coupled with his outgoing personality off it, can help him not only command respect in a room but keep that room together during the tough times.

Scheifele is also absolutely terrific with the rabid fans in Winnipeg. As someone who’s witnessed his interactions with fans, I find him to be the epitome of a class act, and a complete professional. An infectious smile is never far from his face, and he’s got a passion for hockey and a love of the game that shines through at all times. His work with the community in Winnipeg has also been commendable, and the Jets have certainly noticed that.

As the first ever pick of the Jets, he is in many ways the face of the franchise, and he owns that mantra. He owns the limelight that other players would wilt under and even seems to enjoy it. His personality is perfectly suited for a market like Winnipeg, and I don’t believe anybody in the Jets front office or coaching staff thinks he couldn’t handle a captaincy.

All of this is not to say Scheifele is the only candidate for the Jets vacant captaincy. All that I’ve said of Scheifele could also be said of his linemate, Blake Wheeler, and Wheeler is a more mature player already wearing an assistant captain’s A. Wheeler is every bit as beloved in Winnipeg as Scheifele, and he was the Jets’ leading scorer and most consistent player last year. He too is a prime candidate for captain.

Scheifele is in a unique position, however, and having just signed a massive extension, he seems poised to be a Jet through the best years of his career, if not for life. Scheifele is the kind of player Jets fans like to brag about, an example of the draft and develop method at work and proof that not every star player wants to abandon the city of Winnipeg at the first opportunity. He is the face of both the franchise and the team’s youth movement that has been long and at times painful.

For a Jets team that wants to let their young guns take over more this season, and a fanbase eager to see the results of their patience, a captaincy for Scheifele may be just the thing. It’s hard to argue he hasn’t earned it.