Has Mark Scheifele finally arrived? His third audition for the Winnipeg Jets has been the most promising so far, with the former seventh-overall pick looking right at home between Evander Kane and Devin Setoguchi. Scheifele has points in two of Winnipeg’s three games to date, two of which were won by the Jets, and the early tenor of his play has been encouraging.
That, of course, is a departure from where he left off one season ago when his brief play at the NHL level still seemed burdened by big expectations and defensive-zone responsibilities. In fact, there was some question as to whether the lanky center would even make the team this fall. But truthfully, the Jets needed their 20-year-old wunderkind to hold down an NHL job, so the idea of him toiling in the minors seemed a stretch. What wasn’t a stretch, however, was the idea of Scheifele being miscast as a bottom-six checking center if he failed to show a spark. Fortunately, paired with Kane and Setoguchi, there’s been plenty of spark so far, and therefore ample opportunity for Scheifele to exhibit progress in his 15 minutes per game.
Despite all of that positivity, there are still concerns, not the least of which is a small sample size. His is very much an ongoing saga, a burden of proof he’ll carry through the next seven months and beyond. Three games prove little, except perhaps that he deserves a fourth and fifth.
Scheifele still plays soft, which is at times irksome to the Jets coaching staff, and he isn’t yet adept in the faceoff circle (winning just 32% of his draws through three games). He won’t be used to kill penalties either, primarily because he’s still prone to the occasional glaring mistake in his own end of the ice. He suffered one such lapse Sunday night against Anaheim, drifting below the extended goal line to the right of Ondrej Pavelec and leaving an open slot for Jakob Silfverberg to prowl unmolested for a one-timer. Pavelec bailed him out with a great save, but it didn’t erase the mistake, and Scheifele will no doubt be invited to take another look at it during the Jets’ next film session.
But there’s been more good than bad thus far. Simple victories have been numerous. He’s winning more puck battles, and when he gets the puck on the breakout, it usually ends up safely in the offensive zone. This is especially the case for Scheifele when he’s on the right side, cruising through the neutral zone, where he can easily chip the puck past the defenseman on his forehand and chase the deep carom with his speed. And he continues to show good synergy with Kane, a characteristic amplified in the Jets’ first three games. Something of an enigma himself, Kane has a goal and two assists in the early going, while the newly acquired Setoguchi has two goals and one helper. That’s the kind of second-line punch Winnipeg needs if it hopes to compete for a playoff spot, and so far, Scheifele has been at the center of that production both figuratively and literally.