It’s a new era for the Winnipeg Jets. The youth movement is kicking in and it’s going to take over this season and in a year or so, the Jets next wave of talent will be the faces of the franchise. At the forefront of this new generation is centre Mark Scheifele.
The growth that Mark Scheifele has demonstrated both physically and as a leader is impressive. The 23 year old took over the role as the Jets number one centre last season, and not only did he improve offensively while being thrusted into more responsibility (finishing one goal shy of the 30 goal plateau), but also continued to improve his defensive zone play.
Scheifele is the team’s franchise centre, and the team is invested in him long term with the 8-year, 49-million dollar contract they inked him to this offseason. Number fifty-five is going to be here for the long run and is transforming from a young player trying to learn his way to a player leading by example and showing what it means to be a Winnipeg Jet night in and night out.
When the Jets first relocated from Atlanta, Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler were the faces of the franchise. Ladd, the captain of the team, is no longer with them and Bryan Little is still a solid second line player, but nothing spectacular. Wheeler hit his career total in points this past season with 78 and has been the teams best player for quite some time, but we’ll get to him more in a little bit.
Now, fans are hoping that Nikolaj Ehlers, Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine amongst others can do what that trio couldn’t, turn the team in to a contender. It’s a new day for the franchise. The roster is evolving in to a roster that can aim for championships as opposed to mediocrity.
Scheifele is one of the key ingredients to Winnipeg’s quest to greatness. Because of that, the Jets could put the C on the chest of someone like him as opposed to Blake Wheeler who may not be here after 3 years when his contract expires.
Wheeler is committed to the Jets for another 3 years and after that point, he’ll be 32 and who knows what his next move could be. If the Jets aren’t close enough to becoming contenders as he’d like, he could explore options that can give him a better crack at getting a Stanley cup ring.
It’s important to hand the captaincy to a player that’s invested in the long haul with a team. Last season when the future of captain Andrew Ladd’s was up in the air, it became a big distraction for the club. You never want your captain’s status with the team to be a distraction and somewhat of a mystery. Because of that, I could see the Jets opting to give the ‘C’ to Scheifele, for the security he could bring and to signify the turning of the page to a different core.
The NHL is transitioning to having younger captains. The Colorado Avalanche named Gabriel Landeskog captain when he was 19, the Chicago Blackhawks deemed Jonathan Toews their leader at the age of 20 and Sidney Crosby started to wear the ‘C’ on his chest when he was 19.
23 years old isn’t young by NHL standards to become a captain, Scheifele showed in his third season he can lead by example, a trait that a captain needs to earn the respect of his teammates and of his coaches. Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little and Dustin Byfuglien will still have a voice with this team and be great veterans to surround the young guys with, but it’s time to hand the keys over to Scheifele and let him lead this team.