Like I’m sure many other Jets fans were doing, I instantly found myself asking one question following the news of Mark Scheifel’es demotion.
Scheifele still had one game left before the Jets were forced to make the decision between keeping him and burning a year off of his entry level contract, or sending him back to the Barrie Colts for another year in the OHL. The franchise seemed rather content with taking their time to make the decision, scratching Mark multiple times early this year, letting him go on a trip down south with the boys, and giving him a lot of time playing center in the third of a blow out game against Tampa last Friday.
The case could easily be made that Mark Scheifele simply is not ready to take that step into the NHL, and I wouldn’t exactly disagree with that statement. There is though, one other factor that I feel really played into Claude Noel and Kevin Cheveldayoff’s decision to send him down when they did:
To say Alexander Burmistrov has had an atypical NHL experience would be a gross understatement. Drafted 8th overall by the Atlanta Thrashers in 2010, Burmi was a 1.04 point per game player in the OHL and was rushed into the big leagues as predominately a third line player. Not exactly a place for a young man who was touted as an undersized, yet skilled playmaker coming out of junior. (But the mistakes of the Atlanta Thrashers franchise are a tale for another time) As such, he finished the year with 20 points (6 G, 14 A) and a plus/minus of -12.
Last year, following the big move up North, Burmistrov was arguably one of the most interesting and enjoyed players by fans here in the ‘Peg. He found himself bouncing around on lines with Evander Kane, Nik Antropov, Kyle Wellwood and well, pretty much everywhere except the GST line. (Let’s be honest here, outside the Ladd-Little-Wheeler line it was rather difficult to pinpoint what exactly the Jets second, third, and fourth lines were each night) None the less, he found himself posting 28 points (13 G, 15A) in his sophomore year, and was fifth on the team with a plus/minus of +4.
This year has been quite the adventure for Alex. Personally, I felt that the lockout could serve as a great opportunity for him. In a perfect world Burmistrov was going to go down to the Ice Caps and have a Jason Spezza circa 2004-05 NHL lockout kind of year.
Spezza went down to Binghamton Senators of the AHL in ‘04 and absolutely dominated the league, posting 32 goals and 85 assists (I kid you not) and a mind blowing 117 points in 80 games. He then entered the NHL again in 05-06 and put up 90 points in 68 games with the big boys.
Needless to say, it was far from a perfect world. In 22 games with the Caps, Burmi posted a disappointing 11 points (2G, 9A) and was a -2 before getting hurt and coming back to Winnipeg for rehab a few weeks before the lockout ended. Instead of a lockout forcing Burmi into the AHL, I was starting to think that for his personal growth and future, leaving him down there for a year sounded like a good idea.
Then the season started.
Alexander has spent most of the year thus far on the so-called third line with Alex Ponikarovsky (who in all honesty is still a decent player, but best years are behind him), Nik Antropov (a guy who I really don’t think I fast enough to play with Burmistrov) and Kyle Wellwood (who has been in and out of the lineup this year), and his stats have reflected that.
Going into the game Tuesday night against the Panthers, Coach Claude Noel finally did something I think Burmistrov has been waiting for since he was drafted back in 2010. He told TSN that he, “needed to put Alex in a top 6 forward roll to see what he could do”, and put him on a line with Andrew Ladd to his left, and Bryan Little to his right. Simply stated, it looked fantastic. The three of them looked like a true top line, and were absolutely flying around the ice all night. They created chance after chance and Burmi truly looked like the energetic, play making center he was predicted to be. With 18:08 minutes of ice time he finished with an assist (on a play that he probably should have been created with a goal), was a +1, kept up with his defensive responsibilities, and was named the games second star.
Now, to avoid getting too optimistic he finished a rather ugly 20% in the faceoff circle, although he has been at 46.8% this year and has improved in the circle each year in the league. He still does only have 2 points thus far on the year, but there is little doubt in my mind that is he sticks with Ladd and Little (as I believe he should for now) that production will drastically improve.
Alexander Burmistrov is still a young player in the NHL, but on Tuesday night I hope and believe that he took real strides towards the future player he will become. Those strides were possibly enough to send Mark Scheifele back to Barrie for the year, and might just give the Jets a 1-2 punch on first and second lines that every team in the NHL is looking for.