The first draft pick of Kevin Cheveldayoff and the Winnipeg Jets 2.0 played his 100th game against the Edmonton Oilers this week. Mark Scheifele was a contentious pick at #7 overall on draft day in 2011, a noted reach that saw the team pass on Sean Couturier (#8, 230 NHL games) most notably, but also Dougie Hamilton (#9, 132 NHL games) and Jonas Brodin (#10, 139 NHL games). Central Scouting had Scheifele at 16th among North American skaters. The Hockey News had him at 41. Assistant GM Craig Heisinger said at the time, “Every team left with the same opinion [of their draft] today. In three years we’ll know.”
What do we know now, three years on?
Argued to be a later blooming prospect with a higher offensive upside than those taken after him, Scheifele seemed to turn a corner with a December and January stretch last year that saw him put up 23 of his 45 career points in a span of 28 games while going +9 and averaging almost two shots a game (above his career rate of 1.5). But an injury in February derailed his hot streak, and slow starts in each of his professional seasons have made that two month stretch feel like an anomaly. Outside of those two months, he’s posted 22 points in 72 games, with a +1 rating and 102 shots on goal – a far cry from the high-end potential of a would-be 1st line centre.
Collectively, his offensive contributions match closely to Andrew Cogliano (both scoring at a ~.45 points per game career pace). At even strength over the last two seasons (so ignoring his 1 point in 11 games to start his career), Scheifele’s scoring is in line with maligned free agent Derek Roy and former Winnipeg fourth liner Eric Fehr at just 1.58 points per sixty minutes of 5-on-5 ice time. Still, that tracks ahead of the increasingly defensively-used Sean Couturier at just 1.44 pts/60.
Scheifele’s powerplay numbers also track ahead of Couturier, at 2.28 points per sixty versus just 2.16 for the young Flyer. Nevertheless, his powerplay output remains poor – tied with struggling rookie Leon Draisaitl and 19 year old. injury plagued Aleksander Barkov among young offensive centres. But even centres not known for the offensive weapons – Shawn Horcoff, Artem Anisimov, and Lars Eller – all track ahead of him in powerplay efficiency the last two seasons.
When it comes to the Jets, the huge gap between playing with the top-line talent and the also-rans can pull numbers all over the place. Scheifele has played 903 minutes of even strength ice time, and in fairness to him, 212 of those came with Matt Halischuk also on the ice. A full 127 came with Chris Thorburn. But his most common linemates have been Michael Frolik (466), Evander Kane (348) and Blake Wheeler (269) – the best the team has to offer an offensive pivot.
The following chart is not meant to suggest Scheifele is a bad hockey player. He’s 21 years old now, under his second professional coach and there are lots of positive arrows for a young man just starting his career. Our expectations should be lower for young professionals barely out of their teenage years. But in reflecting on the 100 games past, we have to consider his effect on his teammates. And it hasn’t been positive.
|Players||Corsi % With 55||Corsi % Without 55||55 Corsi % without player|
Four of his six most common linemates over the last two seasons has had a greater share of the shot attempts without Scheifele – the exceptions being Kane (equal) and Thorburn (who usually plays with Jim Slater or an AHL call-up).
For Scheifele, the problem hasn’t always been his alone. Early in 2013, we had an in-depth look at how Claude Noel was using his rookie centre to try to find a pattern for his fluctuating minutes, concluding,
“Coach Noel said before the season that he wanted Scheifele to learn several roles on a hockey club, but that he would get his offensive chances. So far, neither appears to be happening with any consistency. For a young man struggling with confidence, having new line mates, uncertain expectations, and changing roles is a recipe for disaster.”
Mark Scheifele’s rookie season led to the hashtag #ScheifeleDown, owing to his constant struggles to stay on his feet. The problem was so bad, we wondered whether he was even safe in the NHL. He’s come a long way in just 88 games.
Perhaps most notably, Scheifele’s awareness and patience for the game has increased considerably as he’s become more comfortable. Still having a ridiculously heavy shot with a short release, the heads-up style of a playmaker, and the size to be a physical force, Scheifele looks like a player who has much more to give. His first 100 games show that he is, indeed, an NHL quality player at a young age. As well, his streak through December and January of last year show us that he has the ability to impact the game offensively, more so than frequent-measuring-stick Sean Couturier.
In the next 100 games, we hope to see Scheifele turn into a consistent offensive threat, confident in his shot, capable of finding and protecting space, and moving the puck with a scoring instinct. God speed, Mark.