Scheifele heads to juniors

The Jets returned Mark Scheifele to the OHL's Barrie Colts on Sunday. (Ernest Doroszuk/QMI Agency)

The Jets returned Mark Scheifele to the OHL's Barrie Colts on Sunday. (Ernest Doroszuk/QMI Agency)

KIRK PENTON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:19 AM ET

WINNIPEG - It was crystal clear after just a few games what needed to eventually happen.

It finally occurred on Sunday when the Winnipeg Jets sent 18-year-old centre Mark Scheifele back to the Ontario Hockey League’s Barrie Colts, three games before his entry-level contract would have kicked in.

The young man from Kitchener, Ont., had quite the ride over the last month, including notching his first NHL goal at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre on Wednesday, but the seventh overall draft pick in June’s draft will return to a normal life in the OHL and no doubt feel even better about his game when he returns to Winnipeg next fall.

Jets head coach Claude Noel felt, as many did, that Scheifele would be in Winnipeg for the entire season after he fired four goals and finished with eight points in five pre-season games.

The bloom quickly came off the rose, however, once the regular season began. Scheifele averaged only 11 minutes of ice time in his first seven games, and he was hardly being used in the latter stages of games.

“There’s no question he has the game,” Noel said Sunday. “There’s no question he’s going to be a really good player for us in the long run, and that’s what we’re looking at. You make decisions based on what’s best for the player, for the organization, everything.

“… His game is still good. He’s a good player. He’s going to be a tremendous player. I don’t think anything has changed. The league, it’s a man’s league.”

Scheifele has decent size, but he’s simply not physically mature enough — right now — to compete against the big boys in the NHL, nor does he know enough tricks of the trade.

He’ll go back to Barrie, eat everything in sight, score boatloads of goals, learn under Colts head coach and former Jets great Dale Hawerchuk, represent Canada at the world junior hockey championship and then report for duty in Winnipeg next September.

That’s way better than sitting on the bench for 50 minutes a night. Can’t imagine anyone seeing this as the wrong move.

Scheifele had 22 goals and added 53 assists in 66 games during his rookie OHL season with the Colts last winter.

The Jets not only love Scheifele’s game, but they adore his personality and attitude. The young man took his demotion in stride, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff reported Sunday, never losing the smile that he has been flashing for the last month in front of the cameras.

“He’s a humble person. He worked hard,” Cheveldayoff said. “He took nothing for granted from the moment he stepped into the locker-room at rookie camp.

“It’s going to be a great opportunity for him to go back to junior, play a pivotal role on a team that is much improved, and Dale’s very excited about what he has in store for him this year.”

And hey, no need to feel bad for the kid.

Excluding bonus money, Scheifele earned about $85,000 for punching the clock in Winnipeg over the last 17 days.

STILL AROUND

Mark Scheifele’s assignment to the OHL leaves five first-round draft picks in the NHL. How they’re faring:

1. C Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton

— 5 goals, 2 assists in 7 games

2. LW Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado

— 5 points, 4th in NHL with 29 shots

4. D Adam Larsson, New Jersey

— averaging 24 minutes per game

6. C Mika Zibanejad, Ottawa

— 1 assist in 8 games

8. C Sean Couturier, Philadelphia

— 4 points in 7 games


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