In the prime of his career, Scheifele's all-around growth will shape Jets' success

Sportsnet's Sean Reynolds and Ken Wiebe discuss Winnipeg Jets training camp, how excited the team feels with their new acquisitions and Mark Scheifele returning from the offseason in great shape.

WINNIPEG - Given the way Mark Scheifele subtly sidestepped the query, the Winnipeg Jets top centre left little doubt he has put the entire Jake Evans affair behind him.

And if Scheifele is still harbouring any anger or disappointment over the four-game suspension he received for doling out a devastating check that left Evans with a concussion, it’s apparent he’s not about to air those publicly.

That chapter of his life is closed.

Instead of lamenting the missed opportunity, Scheifele directed all of his energy to his training and his quest to take his game to the next level.

“Yeah, I had a great summer. Worked on my game. Ready to get back to playing hockey,” said Scheifele, who will miss the Jets' season opener against the Anaheim Ducks as he serves the final game of his suspension. “It’s been nice being with all the guys and seeing all the new faces. There’s a lot of excitement around this team, so that’s where I’m at.”

That Scheifele wasn’t interested in revisiting the play that abruptly ended his Stanley Cup playoffs is not a surprise.

It was the second time in as many years Scheifele was relegated to spectator duty at the most important time of the year, the previous one coming when he suffered a leg injury just three shifts into the qualifying round series with the Calgary Flames in the Edmonton bubble after being on the receiving end of a hit from Matthew Tkachuk.

For a guy who loves to compete under the glare of the spotlight and openly measures himself against the best players in the game, the punishment was difficult to swallow, especially after the Jets were subsequently swept out of the playoffs by the Montreal Canadiens.

But that’s in the past and Scheifele’s sole focus going into his ninth season as an NHL regular is squarely on the present.

“Yeah. I look at myself as kind of being in the prime of my career and you want your team to be in that stage as well,” said Scheifele. “A couple of years ago, we had a great team and went to the conference finals and (then) took a few steps back.

“This year, I think we have a team that can definitely do something and it starts now. It starts in training camp and it has to continue to grow each and every day. Every single guy in that locker room is thinking that and it gets me excited every day.”

Scheifele, 28, is an elite offensive player, having produced five consecutive seasons as a point-per-game player or better thanks to his combination of speed, vision, passing ability and lightning-quick release.

Although he isn’t one to share personal goals, there’s a legitimate chance Scheifele could push for his first 100-point season, given the personnel improvements to this Jets roster.

So what does the next phase of his progression look like to Scheifele?

“I think it's just take another step. My biggest focus this year is my all-around game,” said Scheifele, who has 201 goals and 507 points in 575 regular season games and added another 18 goals and 31 points in 33 postseason contests. “We have all the pieces to be a contender in this league and I think, for me, it's that all-around game — face offs, D-zone and obviously production is always at the forefront.

“I get paid to produce, but at the same time I think my biggest thought this off-season was how do I round up my game? How do I focus on the simple things, to not just score goals but just live for another day, get the puck out, make a simple pass, be in the right spot as a counterman and I think that's my focus this year.”

That steely focus is on the Jets, but there’s another clear motivating factor for him -- and that surrounds doing whatever it takes to be chosen for Canada’s men’s Olympic team by Doug Armstrong and his staff.

“It's obviously in the back of my head every single day,” said Scheifele, who has suited up for Team Canada in the world junior and in the men’s world championship. “The news a couple of weeks ago that the NHL was going to the Olympics was awesome. I was very happy to hear that and it's definitely one of those things that I look at.

“If I play the best hockey I can play, it gives the Winnipeg Jets the best chance of winning and if our team is doing well it gives me the best chance to make Team Canada. Obviously, that's in the back of my mind every single day and it just gives you that extra motivation to be better and better for the Winnipeg Jets and I think that's what makes the world go round.”

The benefits of Scheifele being able to enjoy a similar experience to what his former Barrie Colts head coach and mentor Dale Hawerchuk had during the 1987 Canada Cup would be far-reaching.

Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff spoke to reporters for nearly 22 minutes on Friday about the state of the team in his 11th training camp and, when he was asked about what could be on the horizon for Scheifele, he couldn’t hide his enthusiasm about the potential for further progress.

“As a player, he’s a guy that still is actually getting better,” said Cheveldayoff, who selected Scheifele seventh overall in the 2011 NHL Draft and has witnessed that growth first hand. “His work ethic and his training is legendary, as far as what he does and his knowledge of the game. He’s a guy that’s very driven and very motivated. I think there are still levels of his game that he’s still achieving.”

In order for the Jets to get to where they want to go, Scheifele is going to need to be one of the play drivers and his dedication to becoming a better all-around player (with an emphasis on his defensive-zone play) is going to be one of the storylines to watch as this new season gets going.

“When you think of the Winnipeg Jets, you think of Mark Scheifele,” said Jets defenceman Brenden Dillon, noting that Scheifele was one of the first players to call him after he was acquired in July. “The amount of success he's had as a player and now has grown into a leader on this team over the last few years. He just continues to get better and better each year.”

That’s exactly what both Scheifele and the Jets are counting on.

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