Two years ago in October 2011 the Winnipeg Jets were the new kids on the block. Jets fans were just getting acquainted to the new team in town, learning about the new players and starting to build expectations. It was a great time. Hope sprung eternal.
One kid in particular was catching everyone's eye. That was Russian center Alex Burmistrov. Coming off an up and down rookie season in Atlanta where he got 6 goals and 20 points in 74 games, Jets fans knew that the talent was there. The hands he had displayed in Atlanta had led to much excitement that the 8th overall pick in the 2010 NHL entry draft could be a steal and quickly become the #2 or even #1 center here in Winnipeg. We were all expecting much more of this.
Alexander Burmistrov highlight goal 11/19/10 (via NHL)
Coming out of camp, Burmistrov had earned the #2 C role playing with Nik Antropov and Brett MacLean, who eventually gave way to Kyle Wellwood. Burmistrov was juggled from C to LW and RW at times in the early going, the one constant was that he was consistently given offensive opportunities by first year coach Claude Noel. After assisting on Nik Antropov's first ever Jets 2.0 goal in the opener, Burmistrov continued to excel despite the mediocre linemates (not a single one of whom has an NHL contract in 2013) averaging 18:47 minutes per game getting 4 goals and 6 assists while going +5 in the opening 12 games. He was the talk of the town.
As young players often do, Burmistrov had a slight slump of the next 5 games, going -4 with no points. The end result of this was that Noel cut his icetime down every game. It never went back up. Only once again in the season did Burmistrov play 20 minutes (Feb 16 vs Minnesota) and Burmistrov was much more often below 16 minutes than above it. Bouncing all around the lineup the rest of the year, Burmistrov managed just 9 goals and 9 assists in his remaining 64 games with a -1 rating while his time on ice average for the whole year dropped over two minutes to 16:39.
Was it that Burmistrov had suddenly no longer had that amount of talent? Why was he not able to replicate the success from the early season?
Add another year of Noel and Burmistrov not getting along and disagreeing about the role Burmistrov should play on this hockey team and Burmistrov is signed to the Ak Bars Kazan of the Kontinental Hockey League while another 20 year old hockey player is breaking into the Winnipeg Jets lineup, Mark Scheifele.
After two false starts in which Scheifele has failed to crack the roster from the 3rd and 4th lines (despite playing with all-stars like Chris Thorburn and Jim Slater) Mark Scheifele has appeared to crack the Jets roster as the #2 C. While fellow rookie Jacob Trouba has been getting alot of the hype for the great first game, Mark Scheifele had a statement game as well highlighted by this.
Mark Scheifele (1) Goal: Winnipeg Jets 1 Edmonton Oilers 1. October 1st 2013. (HD) (via xXxCrosby87Xx)
Scheifele is being given the same opportunity as Burmistrov, leading the forwards with 15:01 even strength minutes and 2:57 on the PP to rank #4 overall in minutes among forwards. Scheifele is benefiting from a much upgraded roster playing with Evander Kane and Devin Setoguchi. The first ever Jets 2.0 draft pick seems to have found his spot for now.
The question is whether he can keep it and whether Claude Noel knows how to exploit the best from the youngster. Whether you want to blame Burmistrov or Noel, Burmistrov was a very talented high NHL draft pick that never got his game going and there is blame to be placed everywhere when that happens.
Claude Noel has been given a second chance to take a Barrie Colt all-star to the next level. Scheifele is the same age as Burmistrov was back in October 2011. Mark Scheifele was played all over the roster in the pre-season and was only placed back into a scoring role just before the season opener. Noel has twice before relegated Scheifele down the lineup while still expecting results and twice before has Scheifele been banished back to junior hockey. This year's version of Scheifele looks to be bigger, stronger and more confident than the past versions, however as young players are wont to do slumps and inconsistency will likely creep into his game at some point this season.
Can Claude Noel maximize Scheifele's potential and get him to play a key role for the Winnipeg Jets not only this season but for many more seasons going forward? Time will tell.