This is the next logical step in what has can only be called a whirlwind season for Mark Scheifele.
On Thursday afternoon, the Winnipeg Jets made official what had been widely speculated: that after his Barrie Colts were eliminated on Tuesday in a heartbreaking Game 7 loss to the Ottawa 67s, Scheifele would be joining the St. John’s IceCaps for the American Hockey League playoffs.
But not before taking a few days off to recharge his batteries.
Why would a 19-year-old need to take a few days off, you might ask?
Consider what Scheifele had on his plate during the past 12 months:
It all started with the skilled centre suiting up for Canada at the World Under-18 championship, where he was arguably the team’s best player and improved his draft stock dramatically.
Since that time, Scheifele took part in the NHL combine, was chosen seventh overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, attended Canada’s world junior summer evaluation camp, opened Ontario Hockey League training camp with the Colts, reported for Jets’ prospects camp in Penticton, B.C., led the Jets in scoring during the pre-season to earn a spot on the roster, inked his first NHL contract, appeared in seven NHL games with the Jets (scoring his first NHL goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs) near his hometown of Kitchner, Ont., returned to the Colts for further seasoning, suited up for Canada at the 2012 World Junior Hockey Championship and then went back to finish off his season with the Colts, capping it with his first taste of the OHL playoffs and being part of a Round 1 victory before bowing out in overtime of Game 7 in the second round.
Just writing the words makes you want to take a deep breath. Imagine how he feels.
There was plenty of talk about how Scheifele needed to return to the OHL and dominate when he was reassigned by the Jets.
The numbers might not support that — Scheifele had 23 goals and 63 points in 47 games, compared to the 22 goals and 75 points in 66 games he produced as a rookie — but development goes deeper than what’s on the surface.
By all accounts, Scheifele made some important strides in his play away from the puck while working with head coach Dale Hawerchuk for a second season.
Granted, he played on a better team but it’s significant that Scheifele improved from a minus-22 rating to a plus-21.
Scheifelee added five goals and 12 points in 13 playoff games this spring, including an important goal in Game 7.
He also found some chemistry with fellow Jets’ prospect Ivan Telegin, who had a strong campaign of his own and is almost certainly ready for a taste of the pro game this fall, most likely with the IceCaps.
Were it not for a knee injury he sustained in Game 7, Telegin would be joining Scheifele for the Calder Cup playoff run and he still might, depending on further diagnosis of the injury.
The IceCaps already have a deep roster with championship aspirations and ample depth, so it only makes sense to give Scheifele a few days off to prepare for his next challenge.
Depending on how things go for the IceCaps against the Syracuse Crunch in the first two games, head coach Keith McCambridge will be in charge of deciding when Scheifele gets inserted to the lineup.
Having the familiarity of playing for McCambridge at the YoungStars tournament in Penticton, B.C. and knowing some of the players on the IceCaps roster should serve Scheifele well as he makes the transition to the AHL game.
Adding high-profile players at this time of year has become somewhat commonplace at this time of the year, to varying degrees of success.
Not long ago the Manitoba Moose gave Cody Hodgson a taste of the pro game as they marched to the Calder Cup final against the Hershey Bears.
Just like in that situation, Scheifele won’t be asked to carry the offensive load, but rather to fit in and contribute what he can when given the opportunity.
On the flip side, if Scheifele can find the magic he produced during the NHL pre-season, he could be an impact player and help offset the loss of IceCaps captain Jason Jaffray, who had successful neck surgery on Thursday and is out for the playoffs.
Scheifele still has plenty to learn before becoming an NHL regular and a lengthy run with the IceCaps is sure to provide a couple of valuable lessons about the pro game.