(Please welcome new Jets nation author Dean Belanger. Dean’s first article here at JN looks at Mark Scheifele’s chances of making Canada’s WJC roster).
It may already be a forgone conclusion that Mark Scheifele will not be a member of the inaugural Jets lineup when they return to the NHL this fall. The reasons are numerous; is he ready, the depth chart, what’s better for his development, etc. A quick peek at the depth chart and it’s easy to see that Nik Antropov, Bryan Little, and Alexander Burmistrov are ahead of him as far as the scoring lines are concerned. One of Antropov or Little will probably end up on the wing, but that still only leaves the bottom half of the roster open. Most coaches want to employ a checking line and an energy line and it’s quite clear to me that Scheifele fills neither role properly. Tim Stapelton, Ben Maxwell, and Jim Slater (if healthy) are more likely to take those minutes.
Based on those facts, it’s a no-brainer to send the player back to junior where he can continue to develop and garner the top minutes and responsibilities. Scheifele was considered a late bloomer as far as his draft class is concerned and he progressed big time at the end to land up in the top 10. In fact, many were surprised to see the Jets take him over Sean Couturier. It would be wise to let him continue that rise. Based on last season’s performance of 66 GP 22 G 53 AST 75 P his NHLE (NHL equivalency) would be 8 goals and 20 assists. Not bad, but not good enough to sacrifice another year of junior. Of course, my philosophy has always been: if you earn a spot, it’s yours. Nothing should be given at the NHL level, and opportunities should not be taken based on contracts. If Scheifele comes to camp and earns a spot, you make room for him. Burmistrov did exactly that last year.
Which leads me to another team he needs to earn a spot on – Team Canada. One game is not enough data to make a proper-formed opinion. Unfortunately, I intend to do just that. On Saturday at the Red/White game Scheifele did very little to make an impact. Granted, there are many reasons for that. 13 forwards meant that no line would ever stay intact. These players had only been together for a few days. All of the players were focused on the system that coach Don Hay is trying to employ.
Scheifele was on team White and started the game playing with Tyler Toffoli on RW and Matt Puempel on LW. (not exactly Selanne and Tkachuk is it?) As mentioned earlier, the lines were in a constant state of flux. During the first PK, Scheifele was on the ice killing a penalty with Devante Smith-Pelly and they ended up on a 2 on 1. Scheifele sifted a nice pass over to Smith-Pelly who couldn’t convert. The two where trapped on the ice after that as team Red scored a power play goal. To be fair, it wasn’t the best shot from Oleksiak and Tyler Bunz may have been screened. Later in the game, Scheifele tried to beat a defenseman wide and was taken out of the play. Unfortunately for him, the play came back quickly to his own end and team Red was able to convert which at the time looked like the back-breaking fourth goal for a 4-1 lead.
On the positive side Scheifele seems to be a very good positional player. He’s not a jack rabbit to be sure, in fact his foot speed was average at best. What you do notice though is he is one of those players that the puck follows. He is also a strong passer and with the right set of wingers would probably put up some big numbers. What was really interesting to me was how much his body language and offensive zone positional play reminded me of Dale Hawerchuk. Yes, that Dale Hawerchuk who is also his coach in Barrie. Now I know that might sound like blasphemy but people in Edmonton are comparing Nugent-Hopkins to Gretzky…
More troubling to his chances is the depth chart at center for Team Canada. Unless Scheifele can effectively move to the wing, he may be in tough to stick as an extra forward. Scanning the invite list, the current centers feature returning players Sean Couturier and Ryan Johanson; first overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins; and fifth overall pick Ryan Strome all of whom were better on Saturday. Of the 26 forwards invited, 14 play center or are listed as playing multiple positions including center. To make this team at center is going to be a tall order to say the least, which was also mentioned here by Ed Tait in a recent article. I would be shocked if Johanson is available for this tournament. I think it’s fair to say that Nugent-Hopkins and Strome are 50/50 to make their NHL teams. If all of those three return, he has no chance. If all three stick in the NHL, it’s looks much more realistic. There is a lot of time between now and December and I expect Scheifele to continue to develop, as will the other players he’s competing against.
Don’t be surprised though if he’s a late cut or at best the 13th forward.