Mark Scheifele’s time with the Winnipeg Jets has ended, for now.
The Jets sent Scheifele back to the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League on Sunday, after keeping him for seven games. “It’s going to be a great opportunity for him to go back to junior and play a pivotal role on a team that is much improved,” Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said. “We’re just ecstatic about the games that he played [with the Jets]”
The move wasn’t a huge surprise given that Scheifele is just 18 and had played just one year of junior hockey. But he had become a sensation in Winnipeg since the club drafted him seventh overall last summer.
The lanky, constantly-smiling teenager piled up eight points during five exhibition games, generating so much excitement in the city that songs were penned in his honour. When the team signed him to a three-year contract in early October, worth up to $1.6-million (U.S.) annually, Scheifele’s teammates cheered and head coach Claude Noel told a Winnipeg newspaper he would be “stunned” if the forward returned to the OHL.
Everything changed once the regular season began. Scheifele frequently looked out of place and appeared confused. He also acknowledged being star struck at times, facing off against players he once idolized. “I definitely expected it, but it’s definitely a big adjustment,” he said last week.
He did manage to score one goal, during a Jets loss to the Maple Leafs in Toronto last week before his friends and family, who are from Kitchener, Ont. But by Winnipeg’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday, Scheifele’s ice time had dwindled to just over seven minutes and he had just nine shifts, the least among Jets players.
“This is a good move for him. He’s going to learn a lot there,” Noel said Sunday, referring to Barrie which is coached by former Winnipeg Jets star Dale Hawerchuk. Scheifele had 53 assists and 22 goals last season with the Colts.
Noel said Scheifele will be an outstanding NHL player one day but he needs more playing experience. “The league is a man’s league. … It’s just maturity in one’s game. That’s something that will just come through experience.”
Under NHL rules, if the Jets kept Scheifele beyond nine games, his contract would have kicked in. Now the contract won’t start until next season, meaning the Jets will have an extra year for Scheifele to develop.
Scheifele might have a tough time adjusting to life in the juniors after staying in five-star hotels, travelling on a chartered plane and becoming a minor Winnipeg celebrity. But he did manage to pocket his first NHL paycheque before leaving. It totalled about $71,000.