It’s time to start thinking of Mark Scheifele as an NHL superstar

The Winnipeg Jets forward shares his thoughts on why his club isn't in a playoff spot despite their talent, the success he's found with Blake Wheeler & Andrew Copp, the benefits of playing in the World Cup, & which teammates are under the radar.

Coming into the 2016-17 NHL season, Mark Scheifele was pegged as a must-watch player set to break out in a big way. The 6-foot-3, 207-pound centre actually kind of broke out in the second half of last season, finishing 2015-16 with 17 goals and 37 points in his last 37 games.

Over that stretch, Bryan Little became injured and was forced to miss time, which is when Scheifele started to tear it up. The top line job was quietly being passed from one former Barrie Colt to another.

But until he did it over a full season, he couldn’t really gain superstar status.

If there was anything working against a potential star turn season for Scheifele, it was having the World Cup at the beginning of it. The September tournament got the season started off hot with high-end games right off the bat as opposed to easing into the water through pre-season. There was also the compressed schedule, partly because of the World Cup and partly because of the mandated bye weeks for each team. This has had an adverse effect on some players — mainly goalies — and could still lead to others slowing down during the stretch run. [snippet]

But that World Cup provided Scheifele an opportunity to play with some of the NHL’s best young talent on the under-23 Team North America, and get a unique perspective on the wing.

“Playing in a tournament against the best is going to make you better,” Scheifele said Friday on Hockey Central at Noon. “Playing on the wing because Connor (McDavid) was in the middle I think helped my game and helped me understand what it was like on the wing because I’ve never really played wing before. I learned a lot of things just by playing…I learned a lot of things by guys I was playing with and against and I think it was a huge step for me. [sidebar]

“Obviously playing with Auston (Matthews) and Connor was pretty special. Those guys deserve the amount of attention they get because they’re unbelievable players and they’re only getting better.”

McDavid leads the NHL scoring race with 59 points and is now fully entrenched in the “who is the best hockey player in the world” debate. Matthews, meanwhile, is third in the rookie scoring race with 39 points and is tied with Patrik Laine for the freshman goal-scoring lead at 23.

And Scheifele? He’s just tied with Alex Ovechkin for third in NHL goal-scoring with 25 and is sixth in the points race with 53, the best production of any player whose team is not currently in a playoff spot.

Somehow, he’s still not getting the recognition it seems he deserves. He didn’t even make the All-Star Game, as Patrik Laine got Winnipeg’s spot.

This is the seventh overall pick of the 2011 NHL Draft who was sent back to junior the next two years after he was picked. And then when he did stick in the NHL in 2013-14, he finished ninth in rookie scoring with 34 points and didn’t receive any Calder Trophy votes.

[pullquote]”Obviously playing with Auston (Matthews) and Connor was pretty special. Those guys deserve the amount of attention they get because they’re unbelievable players and they’re only getting better.”[/pullquote]

He’s a great example of why, if a highly-touted prospect doesn’t produce at the same kind of level as Matthews, McDavid or Laine early on, it doesn’t mean they’re a likely bust. With the base skill that made the player a coveted prospect in the first place, if he’s buying in and dedicating himself, the more likely outcome is patience paying off.

“You don’t see young men come into the National Hockey League with such an interest in making all parts of their game better, the way he trains, the way he researches the game, the way he practices,” head coach Paul Maurice said in this great video feature.

Scheifele is an Adam Oates student, as the Hall of Famer has become a private skill coach for some NHL players and emphasizes smarts and skill. The Jets centre eats and sleeps the game and, still just 23 years old, could even have a scoring title in his future.

Besides his tremendous natural talent and how he wants to keep improving on it, he truly is a fan of the game. What’s not to like?

“I don’t think there could ever be a day in my life where hockey’s not a part of it,” he said. “I literally live and breathe hockey and it’s the love of my life.”

Scheifele has 15 points in his past 10 games and six in his past four while playing with Andrew Copp and Blake Wheeler instead of the usual Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers. He makes players around him better, plays the “big centre” role so many teams covet, and is now leading the charge for Winnipeg as the team tries to make a great, late comeback to get into one of the Western Conference’s wild-card spots.

Take notice of Scheifele and consider him in debates that involve the best players in the NHL today. He’s already, quietly, become one of them.


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