Jets send Scheifele back to junior

- February 6th, 2013

The Winnipeg Jets took Wednesday off, but that didn’t mean it was a slow news day.

Just when I was starting to wonder if the Jets might be thinking about keeping Mark Scheifele around for the long term, a press release came out announcing the 2011 first round pick had been reassigned to the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League.

Not exactly shocking news, but it gave us folks in the media a chance to debate the topic and get some reaction from Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff.

The status of Scheifele generated plenty of attention from the minute he arrived for his first skate with the Jets.

How big an advantage would he have after playing junior during the lockout and attending a second consecutive World Junior Hockey Championship with Team Canada?

Would an injury create a bigger opportunity for the slick centre to shine?

Might he be able to force his way onto the roster and possibly carve out a bigger role for himself?

On the first day of the condensed camp, Scheifele found himself on the checking/energy line with Jim Slater and Chris Thorburn, playing right win instead of his natural position of centre.

That was a good indicator that the Jets weren’t just going to hand him a job in the Top-6 forwards and in my opinion, that was the proper approach to take.

I don’t see the rush and this isn’t about burning a year of his entry-level deal of his contract either.

Sure, there’s value in Scheifele being around NHL players and taking on more of a checking role, but he’s not a physical player and as the Jets are currently constituted, there wasn’t a spot for him to play quality minutes at centre.

That’s the main reason I don’t find fault with the Jets sending him back down to junior.

There’s no question that Scheifele is a better player than he was last season when he was returned to Barrie. His skating improved and he showed a lot more confidence and poise with the puck, along with more creativity. He generated some quality scoring chances in limited action.

As Cheveldayoff pointed out during his 18-minute press conference, Scheifele showed off his hockey sense and adaptability by moving to the wing, but it’s clear he’s most comfortable in the middle and that’s where he’s going to play when he cracks the roster full-time.

During his one period of garbage time at centre against the Tampa Bay Lightning with Andrew Ladd and Bryan Little, Scheifele was strong in the face-off circle and gave a glimpse of what could be on the horizon this fall.

As it turns out Scheifele appeared in just four of the Jets’ nine games to date and was a healthy scratch in five of the past six.

There were times when it looked like he might be ready, but others when it was clear Scheifele might be best served by completing this season in the OHL and gaining some more valuable seasoning before taking a third crack at making the Jets in September.

He also needs to get a bit stronger, something that’s not uncommon for 19-year-olds trying to break into the NHL.

Columnist Paul Friesen caught up with Colts head coach Dale Hawerchuk this afternoon and the former Jet expects Scheifele to take the demotion in stride and says it will only drive him to continue to get better as a player.

I agree.

The one thing we’ve seen from Scheifele in our limited dealings is that he has a great attitude and a genuine passion for the game. He’s willing to put in the work to get better and has a grasp on the big picture.

Obviously, he wants to be in the NHL and will be feeling some disappointment, but I expect him to use that as fuel to have a strong finish to the OHL season.

This is a case were Scheifele would probably be best served by joining the St. John’s IceCaps of the AHL and playing against pros but that’s not allowed by the rules in the deal with the Canadian Hockey League.

That’s not to say there isn’t anything to be gained by going back to junior either. It’s easy to forget that it’s just Scheifele’s third season playing major junior. In 2009-10, he was playing Tier II hockey and that’s a long way to go to the NHL in a short period of time.

The Colts have a strong team and could make a nice playoff run, with Scheifele leading the charge.

And with Hawerchuk at the helm, the Jets don’t need to worry about Scheifele picking up bad habits or wasting too much time worrying about what might have been.

Cheveldayoff also talked a bit about the first nine games for the Jets and applauded the play of young D-men Zach Redmond and Paul Postma.

He also mentioned that the Jets don’t plan to recall anybody from the IceCaps right now, which suggests Dustin Byfuglien isn’t far away from returning from a mysterious lower-body injury that has kept him out of the past three games.

I saw Byfuglien talking to a few fans outside the Jets’ locker room after Tuesday’s win over the Florida Panthers and he didn’t seem to be labouring too badly, but the next test is to see him back on the ice skating.

Fellow blue-liner Zach Bogosian continues to progress from off-season wrist surgery and should be back on the ice with his teammates in the coming days, with his projected return still on pace for the middle of this month.

The Toronto Maple Leafs took Wednesday off as well, but head coach Randy Carlyle took some time to speak to the media at the team hotel and he was in a pretty good mood.

During his time with the Manitoba Moose, I don’t recall one media availability that lasted 15 minutes, at least not one that included Carlyle smiling throughout most of it.

In talking with beat writers who cover the Maple Leafs, they’ve said Carlyle has been great to deal with and after watching him Wednesday afternoon, he’s softened his stance with reporters over the years.

Besides, Winnipeg is near and dear to Carlyle’s heart and he wasn’t afraid to show his emotions. Although he enjoyed catching up with some friends and seeing some familiar places, Carlyle’s focus will be on trying to help the Maple Leafs win the game Thursday.

I have to imagine that True North is going to plan some sort of video montage to thank Carlyle for his years of service and while he joked about possibly getting booed since “he’s the enemy now” there is sure to be a standing ovation in store for the former Jet defenceman.

Be sure to check out our extensive package in the Winnipeg Sun and at www.winnipegsun.com.

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