Can Mark Scheifele contribute in the NHL this year?

By Chris Dubiel

After a successful run in the 2011 preseason, in which he scored four goals in five games for the Winnipeg Jets, Mark Scheifele broke camp with the big club. Not surprisingly, Scheifele was quiet in his NHL debut, scoring one power play goal in seven games before heading back to the Barrie Colts of the OHL.

The preseason is often a time when the flashy rooks show their stuff wearing the colors of the team that drafted (or signed or traded for) them often against…other rookies. Watching how a young player performs in meaningless games is not always the best indicator, but shouldn’t totally be dismissed.

Along with Mark Scheifele, rookies Brandon Pirri of the Chicago Blackhawks, Matt Read of the Philadelphia Flyers, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Edmonton Oilers and Jonathan Huberdeau of the Florida Panthers all lit up the score sheets during exhibition play in 2011. Like Scheifele, Brandon Pirri started the year in the NHL but had a short and quiet stint before being sent to the minors. Huberdeau went straight back to juniors after the preseason, but he’s built up high expectations for this coming season. Read and Nugent-Hopkins went on to have successful rookie campaigns. Matt Read was in early Calder Trophy discussions and Nugent-Hopkins was a finalist.  The point here is that while we can’t count on the preseason to tell us everything, sometimes the early success is sustained and translates to the highest level.

Scheifele wowed Jets brass and the fans in training camp before tailing off when the competition got bigger and stronger, but he went on to have a good year in Barrie with 63 points in 47 games. After that, he got a taste of Calder Cup Playoff action but had just an assist in 10 games. The sample sizes are small and he’s just 19 years old, but Scheifele has yet to prove anything at the professional level when the games count.

There are people who believe the Jets reached for Scheifele with the #7 pick in the 2011 draft, but there is still some time and promise for that to be proven wrong. Not every great player bursts onto the scene right out of the draft. In fact, a lot of them take a few years of development. Mark Scheifele could be ready to take the next step after finding out how much tougher the pro game is. The coaching staff was impressed with him during prospects camp in July and he hasn’t shown any signs of his progression leveling off.

Even though it’s early in his career, this year will be an important one for Scheifele. Goal scorers don’t spend a lot of time in the AHL, so if he’s going to be a top line player for years to come, he’ll have to keep any stint in St. John’s a short one. If he makes the Jets out of camp, the situation is that much better. Either way, fans should expect Scheifele to make strides this season, but I wouldn’t bet on him impacting the Jets in an overly significant way in 2012-13.

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