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Scheifele needs to play with skilled linemates, Hawerchuk says 0

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

After being selected seventh overall by the Winnipeg Jets in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, Barrie Colts forward Mark Scheifele cracked the NHL team’s lineup coming out of training camp. During his seven-game audition, the Kitchener native scored his first NHL goal before being returned to his OHL club. With this season’s NHL lockout over, Scheifele will participate in his second NHL training camp and hopes to stick with the big club for good this time around. QMI AGENCY FILES

After being selected seventh overall by the Winnipeg Jets in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, Barrie Colts forward Mark Scheifele cracked the NHL team’s lineup coming out of training camp. During his seven-game audition, the Kitchener native scored his first NHL goal before being returned to his OHL club. With this season’s NHL lockout over, Scheifele will participate in his second NHL training camp and hopes to stick with the big club for good this time around. QMI AGENCY FILES

WINNIPEG - 

When Colts coach Dale Hawerchuk sent Mark Scheifele packing for the National Hockey League after the lockout ended, he told the kid he didn’t want to see him back in Barrie.

The Ontario Hockey League team had a sendoff for the 19-year-old, too, assuming he’d stick with the Winnipeg Jets in his second crack at the NHL.

So what happened?

After banishing Scheifele to the press box for five of the last six games, the Jets sent him back to junior, whisking him off to

the airport Wednesday before making the move public so he didn’t have to face questions from the media.

Just as well, because the kid never really stood a chance.

“He was in a tough circumstance,” Hawerchuk said from Barrie. “A shortened season, the pressure to win every night — it’s always a lot easier to go with guys that have mileage up there already.”

Strike 1 against Scheifele was the lack of pre-season games, where he could have got the ice time and top-six forward opportunities he needed. The lockout also cut his tryout window in half, to five games.

Strike 2, the presence of highly paid centre Olli Jokinen, to go along with highly paid centre Nik Antropov.

“They’ve got some pretty good top-six type forwards there,” Hawerchuk said. “You’ve got a lot of guys you’re paying big bucks to. You’re not going to start sitting them out. You say, ‘Hey, we could wait a year and have an extra year on his contract.’”

Then there’s Alexander Burmistrov, another centre and former Barrie Colt who paid some dues in the minors this season. The Jets need to get a solid read on Burmistrov, a 21-year-old playing out the last year of his entry-level contract.

That left mainly fourth-line duties for Scheifele, on the wing, which is like trying to fit a square piece of crystal into a round hole — with a sledgehammer.

Fair? Hardly.

“He needs to get into a spot where he’s playing with highly skilled guys who see the ice and think the way he does,” said Hawerchuk, an all-star forward with the Jets in the 1980s. “He’s not going to be a fourth-line guy. If that’s what he turns out to be then you could say it didn’t turn out the way you thought.”

Which brings us to Strike 3: Scheifele’s performance.

If he’d managed to overcome all of the above and still stand out, he’d be finding permanent digs in Winnipeg.

Struggling to compete against stronger players, his line was four games, no points — and way too much time in the press box.

The only other pointless Jet is James Wright, a waiver-wire pickup.

Scheifele is no waiver-wire pickup. He’s the first player ever drafted by the resurrected Jets, who went a little off the board to take him seventh overall.

“I don’t have to stand here and say, ‘Hey, look, our first-rounder is playing in the NHL,’” Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said. “I’m not going to sit here and say to Claude (Noel), ‘Claude, you’ve got to play this guy on this line and this many minutes on this night.’ When he’s ready he’s going to be able to do that on his own.”

He’s not ready.

He’s in a no-man’s land: too good for junior, not good enough for the NHL.

There’s a place for players like that: the American Hockey League. But you can’t decimate the junior leagues by sending teenagers there.

Is Scheifele a can’t-miss, sure-fire NHLer?

Not sure.

For now, he remains just another 19-year-old playing with his peers, dreaming the dream.

“I don’t see this guy regressing at all,” Hawerchuk said. “He’s only going to get better. And this is only going to make his hunger to make it that much greater.”

Maybe next year.

 

GAME DAY

The Colts embark on their annual pilgrimage to Michigan this weekend for a two-game set. They open against the Plymouth Whalers before heading north

to Saginaw to face the Spirit (24-21-3-3) on Saturday night.

The Whalers are led offensively by forward Victor Trocheck, who was acquired from Saginaw at the Jan. 10 trade deadline.

The Florida Panthers prospect has seven goals and 15 assists in 10 games with Plymouth since the trade.

Trocheck’s 72 points overall this season puts him in a tie for fourth in league scoring with Niagara’s Ryan Strome.

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