Winnipeg Jets: Is Now the Time to Fully Commit to Prospect Mark Scheifele?

Anthony CapocciContributor IJanuary 23, 2013

WINNIPEG, CANADA - JANUARY 19:  Mark Scheifele #55 of the Winnipeg Jets keeps his eye on the play during a game against the Ottawa Senators on January 19, 2013 at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Marianne Helm/Getty Images)
Marianne Helm/Getty Images

The clock is winding down on the Winnipeg Jets. They had five games to decide whether or not they want to keep rookie Mark Scheifele on their roster. With three games already in the books, they'll have to make a decision soon.

The question is, will they keep Scheifele on their roster or send him back to Barrie to finish the year in the OHL?

While that is the question that has to be answered soon, it may not be the most important question the Jets organization has to ask themselves when they go about figuring this out. In other words, the decision whether to keep Scheifele on the roster or not has to stem from a lot of other necessary questions.

For instance, is now the time?

It's a difficult decision for the Jets staff, but an extremely important one, to say the least. Coach Claude Noel has to look at a lot of variables, including Scheifele's ice time expectancy and his role as a forward as the season goes on. Moreover, you have to question whether Scheifele will get the best experience now or if his time with the club will just be a rugged grind.

Let's take a closer look at the situation.

Through three games, Scheifele has seen very minimal ice time. Scheifele saw 11:49 of ice time in Game 1 against Ottawa, 8:40 in Game 2 against Boston, and 8:50 in Game 3 against Washington—an average of 9:46 in those three games. Clearly, it’s not a lot of consistent ice time each game.

With the ice time goes his role on the team and where he fits on the depth chart. Scheifele hasn't been in a role particularly suited for him. He's spent most of the time as a bottom six forward with the "unskilled" crop of forwards. His strong points aren't on the checking line; it's in the top six with the skilled players.

Scheifele is very young and may not be ready to take on such a role yet. A good philosophy would be playing him on the bottom six where he would learn defense first. Maybe that's what the Jets want in his first year. Or maybe it's because the Jets just don't have the room to slot him in the top six.

I'll go with the latter.

As it stands, the Jets' top six forwards consist of Evander Kane, Olli Jokinen, Blake Wheeler, Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little and Nik Antropov—no room for Scheifele. However, playing Scheifele on the third line isn't that bad of an idea. It's not your conventional checking line.

For one, he'll be playing with Alex Burmistrov—another young player the Jets are relying on to break out. Scheifele is a natural center, but with the Jets' depth at center, he is spending his time on the wing. With the way the line combinations stand now, Scheifele could see time at center on line three—the position where he would ultimately end up in time.

Another consideration has to be whether or not the Jets want to use a year on his entry-level deal. Would it be worth it to use the year in a season where Scheifele isn't much of a factor? The Jets could save the year and use it when Scheifele is more ready and more immersed in the offense.

It's only a matter of when, but Scheifele will factor into the offense much more than he is expected to now. A low amount of minutes every night and a role that doesn't suit him probably isn't what's best for Scheifele. Until that time comes, it's probably a good idea to let him play 20-plus minutes a night in Barrie.

However, there's still plenty of time for Noel to make up his mind now as we go forward. If Scheifele is given third line minutes or at least 10-plus minutes a game consistently, I wouldn't be opposed to keeping him on the roster. If the minutes are going to remain low and he's going to spend most of the time on the fourth line, I don't see why the Jets would keep him on the roster.

The clock is ticking on the Scheifele decision. Will he stay or will he go?