WINNIPEG - The real tests are just beginning for Winnipeg Jets rookie Mark Scheifele.
Nonetheless, the seventh overall pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft was happy to get another hurdle out of the way after agreeing to his three-year, entry-level contract on Monday with the Winnipeg Jets.
A source said the deal includes an annual salary of $925,000 (including signing bonus) and an average of $700,000 in performance bonuses per season for a cap hit of $1,625,000 per season.
“It was unreal. I don’t think I’ve had that big a smile on my face for signing something my whole life,” said Scheifele, who recorded four goals and eight points in five NHL pre-season games this fall to earn his spot on the opening-day roster. “It was an unbelievable moment. I’ve got to keep on pushing through and battling through the obstacles I’m going to face. This is just an opportunity you want to run with. Hopefully I can stick the whole year.”
Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff told reporters Scheifele would be in the lineup for opening night on Sunday against the Montreal Canadiens, but there were no assurances after that.
“He’s earned that opportunity,” said Cheveldayoff. “Right now, there really are no expectations, we’ll take it day-by-day in those regards. There’s no guarantee of anything. He’s got to show he can continue on the path of consistency, show he’s physically mature. This is still about development and the NHL is a very tough league to develop in. He has to show progression each and every time.”
About the only guarantee is that Scheifele will be “giving it his all” and sporting a smile as he begins the journey to becoming a full-time NHLer.
“When we met with him at the draft, he had a genuine sense of being a humble person,” said Cheveldayoff. “He loves to play the game, that smile on his face is very genuine. It’s there all the time. He’s a character person and we’re very proud to have him in our organization.”
You can count Jets forward Blake Wheeler among those who were blown away by what Scheifele was able to do during his first NHL training camp.
“Obviously, the amount of points he’s put up is pretty impressive, but on top of that, it’s how complete a player he is at such a young age,” said Wheeler, who was drafted fifth overall in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. “You don’t really expect that. His play in his own zone and the things he’s been able to do has shown that he’s mature beyond his years and probably ready to make the next step.”
Scheifele’s junior coach isn’t surprised to see him stick around for the start of the season.
“It’s hard to send a guy back when he’s playing like that and producing like that,” Barrie Colts head coach Dale Hawerchuk said on Monday. “Good for him, he’s played well and he’s off to a great start. I’ve said it before, he’s a quick learner and he gets better by the minute. He’s a treat to coach and he’s got such passion, it’s hard to stop him.
“He’s that kind of player and in time, you’ll want him to be dominant and I think he has that potential. Is it better for him to go back to junior or to play in the NHL as an 18-year-old? His play will determine that.”