News today that top prospect Mark Scheifele has been sent to wax on with Dale Hawerchuk has the internet buzzing. With a number of healthy scratches so far this season, Scheifele’s return to junior shouldn’t shock Winnipeg fans. No doubt we’re all a little nervous, though. So let’s breathe deep and do some explana-bragging for a minute.
We know Scheifele was a reach pick. Central Scouting had him as the 16th best North American skater in their final rankings of 2011. Bob McKenzie, draft guru and compiler of an excellent composite draft ranking each year, had Scheifele ranked as the 21st best skater in the mid-term rankings, and the 12th best in his final rankings of 2011. After a fast start from Sean Couturier in Philidelphia as an 18 year old (taken #8 overall, one behind Scheifele), and the clam chowder being spilled over Doug Hamilton this year (#9 overall), there are probably pundits who are drafting their ‘I told you so’ articles right about now.
But let’s not start sweating it just yet.
Though Scheifele wasn’t the highest rated skater on the board for the True North Jet’s first even pick at #7 in 2011, he had gone from an almost unknown to a top 15 pick in just one season. From the Redline Draft Guide in 2011:
"A virtual unknown heading into the season, had a breakout campaign with the hapless Colts as their top line centre. Lanky and lean – lacks physical strength at this point, but still dangerous due elite hockey sense and soft hands. Creative playmaker sees the ice well and finds open linemates. For a big kid who is still growing, shows quick feet laterally and tight spaces. Eats up ice with a long, smooth stride and is able to pull away from defenders."
Behind the Net has calculated equivalencies for players moving between leagues (here). They aren’t right about every player, but they do show remarkable accuracy in general. If we run Scheifele’s 19 year old season (last year) through the equation, we get an NHL season of 31 pts (12-19-31) – roughly on par with Couturier’s 27 point rookie campaign. His partial season in Barrie during the lockout showed a dominating player – scoring 49 pts in just 30 games. And this from a guy who scouts are saying just needs more time to add muscle.
From Corey Pronman in his excellent team prospect rankings:
Pronman (August 2012)
The Good: Mark Scheifele has high-end hockey sense and is an absolutely fantastic playmaker. He makes plays with his hands and vision every single shift and can have the offense flow through him. Scheifele is a good defensive center who is very responsible and aware for a junior-aged player. When he fills out, he’ll be a good physical player in terms of protecting the puck and winning board battles.
The Bad: Scheifele’s skating showed notable improvement this season, even at times looking pro-average, but he can still look a little sluggish at times. He needs to gain a good amount of strength before he’s fully ready for the top level.
Projection: He could be a below-average top line center.
JetsNation’s own Swindle compared him to the venerable Trevor Linden (though no stats were given on Scheifele’s negotiating abilities).
Winnipeg is very deep at forward this year after the additions of two quality NHL players in Jokinen and Ponikarovsky. Cheveldayoff has done a tremendous job of delaying Scheifele by filling his roster with quality veterans. Scheifele gets another year in the gym, and the Jets get another year before his entry level contract (ELC) begins. This seems especially brilliant given the falling cap and the upcoming RFA squeeze detailed here. To me, this move reads as shrewd asset management.
As for us fans, I think we can be comfortable knowing that Scheifele isn’t behind where he should be. He’s a big bodied kid and just needs time to add muscle to compete with grown men. He’ll be back next season to impress us with his vision (and his smile).