Should Mark Scheifele play for the Winnipeg Jets this season?
In offices, coffee shops and hockey rinks throughout the Manitoba capital the debate rages: Would the 18-year-old centre be better off going back to the Barrie Colts of the OHL or joining the NHL's Jets in the year of their rebirth?
Scheifele, the Jets' first draft pick (seventh overall) since relocating from Atlanta, was tied with Philadelphia's Matt Read for the league lead in pre-season scoring heading into Tuesday's games with three goals and three assists in three games. He was named the first star in Winnipeg's emotional exhibition home debut on Sept. 20, and again in Monday's nationally televised win over the Ottawa Senators in St. John's, N.L.
What has become a familiar grin was still on Scheifele's face Tuesday, after his name wasn't to be found on a list of 20 players cut from the Jets' camp.
“I'm feeling pretty good right now,” said Scheifele. “I think every day gets more and more comfortable. Coming to an NHL camp I had no expectations. I just wanted to play good and wanted to stick (with the Jets) obviously.”
Ever since he pulled on a generic NHL jersey — the Jets didn't yet have a logo — at the draft, the 6-foot-3 Scheifele has been saying the same things about wanting to make the team after playing only one year of major junior hockey.
The Jets have two preseason games remaining — at home to Carolina on Wednesday and Nashville on Friday — against lineups that are likely to be laden with NHL regulars.
If Scheifele wants to be on Winnipeg's opening night roster, he figures he'll need to show coaches and management even more in those two games.
“I think I can find the next level,” he said. “I think I just have to get those first few shifts over with and get used to the speed and strength and the skill of all those guys.”
Jets coach Claude Noel, who called Scheifele the “best player on the ice” after his four-point debut, wouldn't reveal much about the team's plans for its top prospect. Noel did dispel the notion that Scheifele would need to earn a spot on the first or second line in order to make the team.
“Development happens in different ways,” Noel said. “It can be healthy to play in a defensive situation.”
The Jets could sign Scheifele to an entry-level contract and have him play up to nine NHL games before sending him back to junior without using up the first year of his deal.
“It's still a man's league,” Noel said. “And come the regular season you see it's a man's league, so sometimes you need that extra time.”
Scheifele has only failed to make one team in his hockey career. The OHL's Saginaw Spirit cut him in 2009, forcing him to play for the Junior B Kitchener Dutchmen.
“It changes your outlook,” said Scheifele, a native of Kitchener, Ont. “But it also gives you a lot more motivation to work even harder to show them what they missed.”
If the club decides to send Scheifele back to Barrie, many Jets fans will set their disappointment aside knowing who his mentor will be.
Dale Hawerchuk, the Colts head coach, was selected first overall by the original Jets in 1981 and is one of three players whose number was retired by the franchise that is now in Phoenix.
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