Say what you will about his penchant to falling down, but Mark Scheifele has been slowly rising into one of the most effective centres in the NHL.
With the Winnipeg Jets’ own underrated, under appreciated, and legitimate first line centre (that’s Bryan Little in case you are wondering) injured and out for the season, many looked at this as a test for Scheifele. The 23-year-old centre would be exposed to other teams’ top lines and defenders; no longer could Scheifele benefit from hiding behind Little.
Scheifele surpassed expectations, going on a scoring bend with 12 goals and 8 assists in 17 games (with the help of a little bit of a shooting percentage bump).
The Jets budding top-six centre though has been pretty good for quite some while though. Over the past two seasons for 5v5 situations Scheifele has paced 1.8 points per sixty minutes and posted a 53.8 score-adjusted Corsi%. Those are legitimate numbers for a top-six centre on a playoff calibre team.
This season Scheifele has been exceptional. Scheifele has paced 2.23 points per sixty minutes of 5v5 ice time. That puts him 9th for all centres in the NHL with at least 500 minutes, behind only Evgeny Kuznetsov, Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby, Mike Cammalleri, Joe Thornton, Leon Draisaitl, Jussi Jokinen, and Dylan Larkin. Mark Scheifele’s 54.4 Corsi% and +4.57 relCorsi% falls at 18th and 16th in the NHL for the same list of centres.
Since the inaugural season there has been a concern over the Jets’ depth at centre, especially at the top end. There has been a lot of discussion with the 2016 NHL Entry Draft fast approaching whether or not the Jets biggest organizational need is a left shot defender or down the middle.
Now let’s be honest, if you get an opportunity to draft an organizational changing talent like Auston Matthews, you take that chance and run with it as fast and far as you can. That said, the Jets’ top-end centre depth looks pretty good.
It’s interesting to watch Scheifele’s developmental curve because he does seem very much to be an extreme exception to the usual rules and the norm. Scheifele was drafted by the Jets 7th overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft to controversy. The Jets took the rising Scheifele over the far higher scoring and ranked Sean Couturier.
History has shown that more often than not, the decision the Jets made would be the wrong one. Gabriel Desjardins noted this long ago at Arctic Ice Hockey, which eventually became the inspiration to Sham Sharron and Prospect Cohort Success models since purchased by NHL teams:
Many would say this is a testament to scouting, but in reality most scouts following the two intently would have taken Couturier at the time. We should note that Couturier has developed into a fine NHL player and his usage during his developing years has been highly unorthodox.
That all said, I really think that a good proportion of Scheifele’s development has been a symptom of his extreme dedication and attitude toward the game.
Using NHL Equivalent production at each level, we see that Scheifele’s developmental curve has been pretty consistent in climbing up in a linear fashion:
Of course, this is meaningless without context. To create context, we can compare and contrast Scheifele’s NHLE developmental curve versus the Jets’ other centres:
While we do not expect Scheifele’s linear growth to continue at infinite, this is a positive sign towards Scheifele being a centre the Jets build their organization around.
The real question is: who will be the other centre for the Jets if they wish to be a contending team? Will Little still be effective enough when the Jets are ready? Will one of Lowry, Burmistrov, or Nic Petan develop into that centre? Will the Jets problems be solved this summer with a lottery win and Auston Matthews?
Only time will tell.