Winnipeg Jets: Is Mark Scheifele Close to NHL-Ready?

Anthony Capocci@CapocciJETSContributor INovember 9, 2012

CALGARY, CANADA - JANUARY 5:  Mark Scheifele #19 of Team Canada skates during the 2012 World Junior Hockey Championship Bronze Medal game against Team Finland at the Scotiabank Saddledome on January 5, 2012 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.  Team Canada defeated Team Finland 4-0.  (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

The Winnipeg Jets are an organization that builds their team from within. They rely on young players and prospects to one day emerge into superstars.

One prospect that the Jets have very high hopes for is Mark Scheifele—one of the more highly touted prospects in the league and a key piece to the Jets' future.

Scheifele was the first ever draft pick in "new" Winnipeg Jets history after being selected eighth overall in 2011. The selection was considered a reach, as many draft boards had Scheifele pegged to go well into the first round. However, the selection wasn't a complete shock, as the Jets and Scheifele's junior club, the Barrie Colts, have some history together.

Scheifele played in seven games at the NHL level before being sent back to his OHL club in Barrie. Prior to moving to Winnipeg, the Jets were known to throw their first-round picks right into NHL action and play them the entire season.

It wasn't the same case for Scheifele, however. Though he showed some glimpses of what he could one day become, the lone highlight of his call-up was his first and only career goal.

In his short stint, Scheifele didn't have much of an impact and wasn't ready to make the Jets roster as a full-time center. He wasn't NHL-ready. The Jets allowed him to go back to Barrie to continue to grow as a player and as a leader. Now the Jets are wondering when Scheifele will get that opportunity to become the team's top-line center.

Scheifele could have easily stayed in the NHL during his stint with the Jets, and could just as easily make the NHL if there happens to be a season this year. The difference of making the NHL and having an impact is so far and between.

The Jets aren't looking for Scheifele to just log minutes and grind his way through seasons until he feels comfortable—they want him to be as ready as possible when the time comes.

In order to achieve that, Scheifele has to continue playing in Barrie, and possibly even go through a short stint with the Jets' AHL affiliate club in St. John's.

The Jets aren't stockpiled at center and have never really had a franchise center down the middle. The hopes of Bryan Little becoming a consistent top-six center are fading and there seems to be some confusion on whether or not Alex Burmistrov is truly a center. Nik Antropov and Olli Jokinen are veterans who will be gone in two years or sooner.

The time isn't here quite yet, but Scheifele's inching closer and closer to getting another opportunity in the Peg.

With the center depth still thin, the Jets' need for a center is amongst the top of their list. When the times comes for Scheifele to take the stage, the Jets have to hope he makes the most of it so the decision to take him as high as they did looks like a smart move.

The timetable for Scheifele became more predictable after the Jets signed center Olli Jokinen to a two-year contract in July. The Jokinen signing gives Scheifele that much time to continue his development in Barrie, and possibly even in St. John's with the IceCaps.

Scheifele is projected to be, at worst, a second-line center. He has abilities in all three zones and plays the center position like a true center. Most importantly, the Jets are looking for an offensively gifted center and Scheifele has proven in junior levels that he can provide them with offense.

Scheifele is currently in season with the Colts. He's been able to produce at a rapid pace with a poor Colts team in the past, and finally has them on the verge to becoming the best team in the OHL this season. At 13-4, the Colts are tied for the best record in the OHL. Scheifele leads the Colts in points and is fourth in the entire league with two fewer games than the three players ahead of him.

Scheifele may not make the greatest of impacts when he immediately arrives in Winnipeg. But with all the extra development time that he's acquiring now, he'll be that much closer to potentially becoming what the Jets are wishing for.