At the start of the 2013 season, the Winnipeg Jets' most discussed news story has been the roster status of Mark Scheifele.
Scheifele, you see, had been recalled from the OHL's Barrie Colts to join Winnipeg's training camp almost two weeks ago, affording him a roster spot which he is desperately clinging to like the kitty on the 'Hang in there, baby!' poster.
With the fourth game of his 5-game trial period slated for tomorrow night against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Winnipeg is atwitter over whether or not he'll stick around for another forty-four games.
And the answer, my friends, is no.
This viewpoint shouldn't come as a shock to anyone. Gary Lawless wrote a column on it before the season even opened.
And he's right.
Now, in Scheifele's defense, he hasn't been a detriment to the team in his limited action. Far from it, actually. There is no magic formula that states a player being returned to junior necessarily makes him more ready for the pros one year later. But if you want to play the odds, they dictate that Scheifele benefits by resuming his career development with the Barrie Colts of the OHL rather than serving as hockey's equivalent of a paper-weight between the offensively gifted duo of Jim Slater and Chris Thorburn.
To Claude Noel's credit, he has tried to get his top prospect more involved by bumping him up a unit to play alongside another former Colt in Alexander Burmistrov. However, increased ice-time wasn't part of the equation. I can't fathom a scenario in which a 19-year old player averages less than 10:00 TOI and sees an improvement from it.
There have been opportunities for Noel to increase his rookie's offensive role, as Winnipeg has developed the deft trait of drawing penalties at a high rate. Through three games, Scheifele has averaged a stingy 45 seconds of man-advantage ice time.
Also noteworthy is Winnipeg's roster, which entered the season with a top-six so padded that even the aforementioned Burmistrov can't score a gig on it. Furthermore, Noel has not been utilizing Scheifele at his natural position of centre, a position he'll be relied upon to play once Olli Jokinen flies the coop in two year's time. It would seemingly benefit not only the player but future editions of the Winnipeg Jets if he was returned to junior where he can continue to flourish in the areas he will be relied upon the most.
Now, it should go without saying that Scheifele still has some "bulking up to do"; one of those terrible hockey-isms that in this case, actually rings true.
Visions of the number 55 collecting a lose puck and dashing down the wing with a stride as smooth as the polar blue uniform he adorns rarely, if ever results in anything other than a rendition of Bambi on ice. Simply put, his physical maturity just isn't at the NHL level; at least not yet.
The most telling evidence against keeping the Jets' youngest player around could be for contractual reasons. By returning him to Barrie, the Jets would save another year on his entry-level contract, effectively staving off restricted free agency a little bit longer. After going through the motions with Evander Kane last summer and with Blake Wheeler, Zach Bogosian and Alexander Burmistrov slated to hit the boardroom this off-season, staggering the contracts of their most coveted players by an extra year doesn't sound like such a bad idea.
As it stands, the mystery of Scheifele's status will endure on a constant loop in our collective minds.
But know this: come Sunday, when the Jets host the New York Islanders, the blank pages in the conclusion of Mark Schefiele's season will begin to write themselves.