The Winnipeg Jets surprised many hockey prognosticators by selecting Mark Scheifele with the seventh overall pick in last June’s NHL draft. Even more surprising was Scheiffle’s excellent preseason, which resulted in him sticking with the NHL team to open the season.
Scheifele has eight more games left before the Jets must decide if he should stay with them or be sent back to the Barrie Colts and coach Dale Hawerchuk.
As impressive as Scheifele has been to date the Jets should send him back when those eight games have been played.
Scheifele is only 18-year-old, and while there have been 18-year-old players, who have played well in the NHL, he needs to go down for more experience.
For his game to improve he needs to play regularly on an offensive line.
In Winnipeg’s first game coach Claude Noel moved Scheifele around. He played some with the second line, had a few power play shifts, but mostly was on the third line with Tanner Glass and Kyle Wellwood.
With the Jets also needing to give youngster Alex Burmistrov time with the second line, it figures that Scheifele will be relegated to that third line for the majority of the season, were he to stay in Winnipeg.
They could move Burmistrov down to the third line but then his progression would be hindered. Burmistrov showed some signs last season that he will be a quality player. He is only 19, has solid playmaking ability and is good enough defensively to play on Winnipeg’s penalty kill.
He needs to see time with Evander Kane to develop chemistry. The Jets have an investment in Burmistrov as well as Scheifele and need to play him in a position that will allow for growth.
Scheifele will not gain from playing with third line players, either. He has top six potential and needs ice time playing in the top six. He won’t, and should not, get that in Winnipeg this season.
The Jets hold hopes of making a playoff run. That type of run seems almost impossible if your second and third centres combined age is 37.
So the Jets need to do the right thing here. They will give Scheifele his taste of the NHL for nine games but then send him back to juniors. There he will be the No. 1 centre, and log plenty of ice time to develop his game even more.
With an extremely young team already, the Jets can be patient with Scheifele. They are not built to contend this season and by waiting they may end up developing their next great star.
When next season’s training camp rolls around he will be a year older and have a little NHL experience and should be ready to go. Both the Jets and Scheifele will be better for it.