PHILADELPHIA — We’ll let you in on a little secret.
As general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff made his way to the podium at Xcel Energy Center on June 24 during the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, we were almost positive the Winnipeg Jets would be choosing Sean Couturier with their pick at No. 7.
While shooting video of the big moment, I had actually typed: “The Winnipeg Jets select C Sean Couturier” onto the screen for my twitter feed.
All that was left to do was hit enter.
Imagine my surprise when Cheveldayoff through a curve ball and said “The Winnipeg Jets are proud to select, from the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League, Mark Scheifele.”
Scheifele was nowhere to be found when the NHL had a group of top prospects assembled to meet the media the previous day and at the time, we didn’t know much about him at all.
Coming out of the discussions with the players that day, I had a gut feeling the Jets were going to come away with one of three guys: Niagra IceDogs centre Ryan Strome (who went fifth to the New York Islanders), Swedish centre Mika Zibanejad (who went sixth to the Ottawa Senators but was returned to the Swedish Elite League on Wednesday) or Couturier.
This is not a slight against Scheifele in the least either. As we’ve come to learn, the 18-year-old centre from Kitchener, Ont. has plenty of talent and it would appear he’s got a bright future ahead of him.
What struck us in our chat with Couturier — who stands 6-foot-3, weighs 194 pounds and was once pegged as a potential first overall pick — is that he was quick to talk about being an all-around player who prided himself on his play in the defensive zone as well.
But Couturier’s stock had fallen a bit and as we found out later, Scheifele’s was on the rise (and not just with the Jets either).
As it turns out, Scheifele went seventh and Couturier went eighth to the Philadelphia Flyers.
The fact the two young men were chosen one after another means Scheifele and Couturier will be linked and compared to one another for years to come.
As Scheifele was returned to the Colts on Sunday, it’s worth noting that Couturier remains in the NHL.
Interesting enough, and barring some unforeseen, it’s at least mildly ironic that Couturier will play his 10th game of the campaign against the Jets, kicking in the first year of his entry-level contract and likely assuring that he’ll spend the entire season up with the Flyers.
Entering Wednesday’s game against the Montreal Canadiens, Couturier had two goals and four points in eight games, was plus-4 and had 15 shots on goal.
He’s had a nice start, but it’s important to note that Couturier (who posted consecutive 96-point seasons with the Voltigeurs) is currently playing on the fourth line for the Flyers. That’s also a testament to the Flyers in terms of how much depth is on their roster.
Sure, the Jets could have chosen to keep Scheifele around and play limited minutes on the third or fourth line and hoped he learned enough on the job to progress as a player this season, just like the Atlanta Thrashers did last year with Alex Burmistrov.
However, the key difference is that Couturier has already spent three seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with the Drummondville Voltigeurs and suited up for Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championship in Buffalo last Christmas, picking up two goals and three points in seven games.
It’s been well-documented that Scheifele has only one season of Tier I junior hockey under his belt and he should benefit greatly from another season with the Colts. He needs to become a dominant player at the junior level and the chance to suit up for Canada at the world juniors in Alberta would also surely serve him well down the road.
The tools are obviously there and those who have been quick to jump off the Scheifele bandwagon after he put up one goal in seven NHL games should do so with caution.
In speaking with Scheifele on Monday about the demotion, the genuine enthusiasm was still evident in his voice and that’s a good sign. He understands this is the right move for both him and the organization and it will only leave him hungrier to stick for good next fall.
In reality, it’s far too early to tell whether the Jets or the Flyers got the better player in the long-term. That answer won’t likely come until we’re five years (or likely longer) down the road.
But that doesn’t mean the debate won’t rage on or that plenty of Jets fans might be watching No. 14 in Orange closely on Thursday night.