When Winnipeg GM Kevin Cheveldayoff stepped up to the podium on June 24th, 2011, he had two major announcements to make. The first, historically, was to announce the franchise name, after the move that summer from Atlanta. After thrilling fans in Manitoba by announcing Jets as the new but old but new moniker, his next order of business was to make the first selection for a team ready for a fresh start in a new home. Best of all, a few names on the board were sure to invigorate the organization and the fanbase, as top prospects Sean Couturier, Duncan Siemens, Dougie Hamilton, Ryan Murphy, and Sven Baertschi were all still available.
“The Winnipeg Jets are proud to select, from the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League, Mark Scheifele.”
On draft day, the selection of the lanky centreman was considered a mild reach; he was expected to likely go somewhere in the teens. However, it was his meteoric rise in one calendar year leading up to the selection that qualified Scheifele’s presence at the Entry Draft as unlikely, if not shocking.
A 7th round selection of the Saginaw Spirit in the 2009 OHL draft, Scheifele was cut from the 2010 Spirit camp and spent the season playing Junior B for the Kitchener Dutchmen in Ontario. He had a great year for a 16-year-old, and redirected his path towards playing Junior A and then heading south to play in the NCAA. However, his rights were traded by the Spirit to the Barrie Colts, and he was convinced by Colts coach Dale Hawerchuk (full circle, right?) to give Major Junior another chance. The Kitchener native agreed, and was in the lineup on opening night of the 2010-2011 season. His name, of course, nowhere to be found on a single NHL draft prospect list or mock draft. But, it would be. 66 games, 22 goals, and 75 points later for the 17-year-old rookie, and Kevin Cheveldayoff was selecting him before Couturier, who had been projected as high as the first overall pick earlier in the season.
Eight years later, picking Scheifele has made Cheveldayoff look brilliant, as the big pivot’s career has trended in an elite, if not underrated direction. Pop quiz. Name the National Hockey Leaguers who have produced at a point per game clip in each of the last three seasons (minimum 60 games per year)?
Answer? Connor McDavid. Sidney Crosby. Nikita Kucherov. Evgeni Malkin. Brad Marchand. Mark Scheifele.
In fact, take McDavid and Crosby out of the equation (those two seem to mess up just about every research article I put together), and look at Scheifele’s production over the past three seasons compared to some of the elite centremen in all of hockey.
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A renowned student of the game, Scheifele is committed to doing all the little things on the ice that make a team successful. In 2018-2019, McDavid and Scheifele were the only two players in the league who were top 20 in goals and takeaways. He is a big body that is often first in on the forecheck, and his defensive awareness allows Jets coach Paul Maurice to use him on the penalty kill on a regular basis. Each NHL team credits hits, takeaways, and blocked shots a little differently, but it creates an interesting case when you add those stats with goals, and examine the best two-way centremen in hockey this season.
Now, this makeshift stat doesn’t take into account high IQ defensive plays, nor does it look at missed assignments, positioning, or puck battles. However, it is telling that Scheifele’s combination of the “little things” along with the ability to score, puts him in an elite class. It also allows Maurice to play him in all situations. Since 2016, Scheifele is 5th among all NHL forwards in average time on ice, behind McDavid, Anze Kopitar, Aleksander Barkov, and Patrick Kane.
While the Jets have risen to perennial contender status, and Winnipeg has proven to be a tremendous hockey market, one has to wonder if we are missing the boat on Scheifele. At 26 years old, he is just entering his prime. A long Jets playoff run would likely do wonders in terms of gaining him exposure, as would inclusion on Canada’s Olympic roster if NHLers are allowed to compete in 2022.
If I were to describe a six-foot-three, 200 lb, smooth skating, centreman who plays on a Canadian team and has one of the best releases in hockey, you may think of Auston Matthews. You wouldn’t be wrong in coming to that conclusion, as Matthews is a fabulous combination of size and skill. But, what if I were to tell you that only one player has appeared in the Top 10 in shooting percentage each of the last three seasons; in fact, no other player has appeared more than once on that top ten list.
Since the 2016-2017 campaign, looking at players with at least 150 shots on net, Scheifele has scored on 19.2 percent of his attempts. 20.0% in 2016-2017, 18.4% in 2017-2018, and 19.1% in 2018-2019. The Kitchener native, who works on his game and studies the elite players, past and present, has quietly emerged as one of the elite marksmen in hockey. Since his first season in 2013-2014, you’ll have a tough time finding a more lethal shooting playing in the middle of the ice.
That accuracy, combined with his ability to use his size and IQ to find high quality scoring areas, has turned Scheifele into a constant threat to score. This is particularly true on the Winnipeg powerplay. The Jets have finished top five in the NHL in PP% the last two seasons, (24.8% in 2018-2019 and 23.4% in 2017-2018), thanks to having lethal shooters all over the ice. They often set sharpshooter Patrik Laine on the left faceoff dot, Blake Wheeler on the right half-wall with the freedom to slide down below the goal line, and Scheifele in the slot. The results have been evident.
Scheifele is just six full seasons into his National Hockey League career, but his trajectory should not be ignored. Perhaps the best way to evaluate his two-way game and the impact he makes is by examining his career Point Shares. The formula, without getting too in depth, is broken up into Offensive Point Shares (OPS), and Defensive Point Shares (DPS), evaluating goals created for and against, time on ice, marginal goals for and against, and using a ratio that differs for forwards, defensemen, and goaltenders. We are forced to use Scheifele’s 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 seasons, even though he played a combined 11 games and registered just a single point, and his impact still looks comparable to that of some Hockey hall of Famers, plus a first-ballot bound Patrice Bergeron.
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It is a long time before Mark Scheifele can be in that conversation, but numbers don’t tend to lie. Between his overall production, commitment to the little things, world-class release, and incredible character, the 26-year-old has already put together the makings of a historic career. From a 7th round pick in the OHL draft, to Junior B, to the 7th overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft, the man who was once considered a reach now has an elite, all-time career within reach. And it seems he’s just getting started.