Last week the Winnipeg Jets young guns took main stage at the MTS Iceplex during the first Winnipeg Jets Development Camp. Over the five days thousands of fans watched the up and comers in the Jets system and the one that everyone was most excited for and coincidentally the one who stood out the most, was Mark Scheifele.
Last June at the 2011 NHL Draft there was very little wrong that the Winnipeg NHL franchise could do. In one summer they brought a team back to a starving city, sold out all their season tickets, and excitement in Winnipeg was at an all-time high. They then gave all the fans what they wanted when Mark Chipman introduced Kevin Cheveldayoff to make the first pick, on behalf of the Winnipeg Jets. Then came something a little unexpected, the first choice of The Winnipeg Jets was Mark Scheifele…who? Picking at 7th, Scheifele was not even considered a possibility on most experts’ lists of possible picks for the Jets.
Winnipegers never questioned the choice however, instead we embraced our number one pick as an instant fan favourite and he gave us reason to cheer pretty quickly. In the first Winnipeg Jets game played in almost 15 years Scheifele came out to a ruckus crowd at the MTS Centre and left them chanting his name after 2 goals and 2 assists in the first pre-game vs. Columbus, and the pace continued throughout the rest of the pre-season.
Scheifele led the team in scoring through the pre-season and expectations were huge for the young man coming out of the Barrie Colts organization, but after 7 unspectacular NHL games with only 1 point (his first NHL goal) he was sent back down to the OHL to further develop. Although he had a very good season, he was not the force Jets fans were hoping he would be in the OHL. Scheifele had another chance to really prove himself at the World Juniors around Christmas last year but again was almost disappointing, and his brief stint in St John’s with the Ice Caps during their playoff run was forgettable. Doubt began creeping into the minds of Jets fans, especially when looking at the success of some of the other players drafted around Scheifele. Landeskog, Nugent-Hopkins, Larsson and even Sean Couturier who was drafted the pick after Scheifele, all had very solid if not spectacular years in the NHL and as the season came to a close some Jets fans were already thinking it may be a lost cause.
Fast forward a summer and the Mark Scheifele I saw at the development this past week was nothing like the one we had last seen. He was bigger, almost 20 lbs. bigger, he was a leader on the ice, and he seemed to carry himself with more confidence, a certain swagger, even nearing on cockiness, which was great to see from our first pick ever, and still a fan favourite. Of course it’s foolish to even try to evaluate a draft or draftees after only a year. We really won’t know how good or bad the 2011 draft was for certain teams until another five-years down the road, but hey, we’re fans, we jump to conclusions, we second guess, it’s what we do and what we’ll continue to do. We’re going to expect the best, we have trouble looking at the big picture and instead focus on what’s happening here and now. It may not be fair but it will go on, Get ready Trouba, you’re next!