Paul Maurice believes the Winnipeg Jets are heading in the right direction, and Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele are two major reasons why.
Fresh off signing an extension to remain behind the bench in Winnipeg, Maurice spoke highly of his club’s leadership core — both right now with Wheeler as captain and in the future, with Scheifele at the helm.
“Mark Scheifele is going to be the captain of this hockey team at some point in his career for sure,” said Maurice on Prime Time Sports Thursday. “He is, in so many ways, the driver of that offence. Blake is a big part of it; Mark, as a centreman, certainly drives it.”
Maurice recognizes the positive influence Wheeler, who was given the “C” last summer after the departure of Andrew Ladd, has had on the young club’s locker-room and put him in some pretty elite company.
“Blake Wheeler is absolutely the right guy, and I could talk to you for an hour about this guy,” Maurice said before going on to compare the winger to two of the most respected NHL captains he has coached over the years: Ron Francis and Mats Sundin.
“I know that Blake doesn’t necessarily put the numbers up of those guys, but in terms of a quality and consistency of man,” said Maurice. “There’s a level of consistency that these elite guys have, and Blake Wheeler has that. He’s special.”
Wheeler, 31, has posted consistent numbers over the course of his six full seasons in Winnipeg. He has scored 26 goals — the same number he sports on his sweater, of course — in each of the past three seasons and followed up a career-high 78 points in 2015-16 with an impressive 74 points in 2016-17.
Scheifele, on the other hand, has consistently improved over the course of his young career. In 79 games in 2016-17, the centreman registered a career-high 32 goals and 50 assists for 82 points.
“If you get a chance to spend some time with this guy, this is the guy you want your kids to grow up to be — he is that good a person,” Maurice said of Scheifele. “He does everything he possibly can to become a better hockey player and then does it with a smile on his face. There’s lots of those guys who grind through their life and kind of grumble about how hard they’ve got to work — Mark does all that, and enjoys every minute of it.”
Scheifele served as an alternate captain this past season, along with Dustin Byfuglien.
“It’s really refreshing in sport to see somebody that young, that mature, that grounded, who can have fun and drive himself every single day,” Maurice continued. “You don’t have to ask him to get off the couch and take the garbage out — it’s out, it’s done, he’s washed your car, and he’s ready to go to work. And he’s done it at a young age. He’s just great to be around.”