September 28 2011 11:24AM
Jets 2.0 return to their home this evening for the penultimate outing of the pre-season, and there seems to be one topic that's dominating discussion. As Matt noted yesterday, there's a bit of unwarranted pressure on the club from a good chunk of the fan base to keep their prize rookie in town, although I'm not in that number. Anyone familiar with my scribblings knows I'm not one to advocate rushing players.
That stipulated, I'm fine with the idea of Mark Scheifele playing nine games in the bigs for a couple of reasons. First, with Eric Fehr still likely to be headed to the IR for an extended stint, there's a natural hole in the top nine that really can't otherwise be filled internally. The Jets are likely short a legitimate top nine forward or two even with Fehr healthy, and the drop off in skill down to players like Cormier and Maxwell is fairly marked. Scheifele might well be a step up from those gents even at 18, and he seems to have some genuine ability on the PP that few others on the roster possess.
The second reason I'd keep him around for the first few weeks is that regular season hockey is a completely different animal than the disjointed shinny played in September. I suspect that Scheifele could stand a bit of exposure to the real McCoy before heading back to Barrie for the fall, and since I'm not deluding myself into believing the Jets are headed to the post-season, the club can use the opening games to get the young man's feet wet without hurting themselves in any sort of competitive manner.
The benefit of this approach is that they can expose him to what he needs to work on, send him back to Ducky with that list of instructions, and wish him well for the year. The one potential downside is that playing a physically immature player is that he could be at an increased risk for injury, as anyone that has witnessed Gilbert Brule over the last few years could attest. In fairness, though, Scheifele's a bigger man that Brule, and as I've noted before, Brule dominated junior by being a power player, so he ran risks maintaining that style as an 18 year old in the NHL that players like Scheifele and Nugent Hopkins might not face.
Should Scheifele stay up for his cameo, one area to watch very carefully will be his performance in his own end 5v5. That's almost always the part of the game where young players need the most work. If he knocks it out of the park at EV, well, that'll be a nice problem to have, and one just hopes that people pay attention to who he plays with and against at evens before getting too excited.
The other issue at hand beyond Scheifele's ability is the absence of a signed contract. The Jets do have an advantage in this case, since the players drafted immediately before and after Scheifele are already under wraps. Mika Zibanejad has inked a deal that averages 1.775M, while Sean Couturier signed for 1.375M after bonuses. I'd bet that the two sides can come to a deal fairly quickly if needed, with a number in the 1.6-1.7M range, so if the team wants the young man around for October, his contract status really shouldn't be an impediment.
At any rate, he's still in town, and tonight, he and the others will face a C+ level Hurricane squad. Ezra at Illegal Curve has posted preliminary lineups, which show Scheifele working with Evander Kane. That's good to see, if for no other reason than Scheifele has mostly skated with pluggers at EV in the first three games. The Jets are sitting four players of note in Hainsey, Byfuglien, Antropov and Little, so I suppose if the Canes are a third-rate group, Winnipeg is countering with a solid B+ squad.
Edit: the Free Press has an updated roster that includes Antropov and Gregoire in, Postma out.
The other thing to watch will be how guys like Bodie, Cormier and Klingberg fare. All of them are on the bubble for the last coupe of roster spots at forward, so tonight might be their last chance to win a job, especially in Bodie's case as he's on a PTO. Paul Postma appears to still be in the mix on the back end as well. He'll play this evening for the fourth time in pre-season (or not. See above). I'll confess I'm not quite as impressed as some with Postma's game, because points on the PP in the pre-season are nice, but defencemen still need to be NHL-worthy in their own end. I'm not sure he's there, and even if he was a bit more adept in his own end, defence is the last spot the club needs bodies, at least for this season.
Game time is 7:30 CT with the action being carried nation-wide on TSN.