WINNIPEG — When it comes to Mark Scheifele, the ability to pile up points at an impressive rate has never been an issue.
So when you see the Winnipeg Jets top centre leading his team in points and sitting fifth in the NHL scoring derby — behind only the likes of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Mitch Marner and Patrick Kane — with eight goals and 22 points through 16 games, it comes as little surprise.
Scheifele is riding an eight-game point streak following Wednesday’s 3-2 loss to the Edmonton Oilers, which is an impressive feat in itself.
Even for the most gifted offensive players, the ability to produce on a consistent basis is no easy task.
The big storyline surrounding Scheifele this season revolved around how he would handle the spotlight in the North Division, that additional glare that comes with 10 games against Auston Matthews and nine against the dynamic duo of McDavid and Draisaitl, to highlight a few of the other headliners.
With just over a quarter of the season in the books — and the Jets taking Thursday off before resuming their four-game road trip Friday against the Vancouver Canucks — this was a good time to revisit the subject, look under the hood and weigh in on the early returns.
Scheifele is more than holding up his share of the bargain when it comes to what he’s been able to generate for himself and his linemates.
This is the fifth consecutive season Scheifele is running at more than a point-per-game pace.
Because of his vision and passing ability, Scheifele is often viewed first and foremost as a playmaker, but he’s a multifaceted threat because of his rapid release and accurate shot.
One of the other areas of his game that Scheifele has worked incredibly hard at is his ability to protect the puck down low, using his strength and body position to buy time and space for plays to develop.
Below the goal-line in the offensive zone, he’s become very difficult to handle.
“I don’t know. Nothing,” said Jets centre Paul Stastny, asked what has stood out in Scheifele’s game during the eight-game point streak. “He plays a consistent game every night, whether he’s out there with the top line or we’re playing with 11 forwards and he’s out there with the fourth unit. He doesn’t change his game. He hunts the puck, he’s after the puck and he wants the puck all the time. When you’re playing well like that, you’re creating chances, you’re creating turnovers and the puck seems to find you.”
The bulk of Scheifele’s production has come at even strength, with only six points coming with the man-advantage.
Don’t be misled by that stat either.
While Scheifele is getting used to a new position on the power play — the spot previously occupied by Patrik Laine on the left-wing half-wall — that change has already been a positive one because it allows him to touch the puck more.
Although his release was certainly a weapon in the high slot, it required a pin-point pass and was easier for the opposition penalty killers to take away.
Jets captain Blake Wheeler remains the primary facilitator on the Jets’ top unit, the puck is flowing readily through Scheifele.
“Just playing that half wall on the power play, he feels (the puck) a lot more,” said Stastny, who has moved into the spot in the slot that previously belonged to Scheifele. “It helps build that confidence early in the game, when we do get a power play, whether we score or we don’t score. From there, he takes those touches and he’s feeling good about his game and he just continues it throughout the rest of the game.”
Scheifele’s shot continues to be a threat, look no further than Monday’s cross-ice feed from Wheeler that he buried with a one-timer for his first power-play marker of the season.
Asked to delve into what’s gone well during this recent stretch, Scheifele was quick to defer to the work of his teammates.
He was in no mood to draw attention to himself on a night his team had lost to the Oilers.
“If you play the right way, you’ll get rewarded and that’s the biggest thing,” said Scheifele, who is averaging just over 22 minutes of time on ice per game.
As for his defensive play, there were some lapses early on that resulted in goals from the opposition, but during this recent stretch, Scheifele has been more determined away from the puck, whether that’s in his down-low coverage or by providing pressure on the backcheck.
Spending a solid block of time on a line with someone as diligent in the D-zone as Andrew Copp, has provided a bit of a safety net, while also rubbing off on Scheifele.
“One of the things Mark has tried to do is battle harder defensively. And I think when he does that, everything else kind of comes together for him,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice. “The pace, the hands, the plays he can make — I think it may even be a driver for him. He’s run with different wingers, so it’s a bit of a new experience. Sometimes when you break the routine of the same guys, you kind of rediscover your own game a little bit. I think he’s kind of got to the next level with that.”
No, Scheifele is not going to morph into a Selke Trophy nominee overnight, but his efforts to be better defensively have been duly noted — though there is still room for improvement.
That’s not uncommon for most players in the NHL and if there’s one thing Scheifele has shown since arriving on the scene in 2011, his willingness to work on both his strengths and weaknesses is at the core of what drives him.