Many prognosticators are anointing Mark Scheifele as the Winnipeg Jets number once centre. Other's, okay just one other, are going so far as to call him the best centre of the 2011 draft class, but is he? Well, the 2011 draft class thing is kinda silly, so we aren't getting into that, but is Mark Scheifele the Winnipeg Jets new #1 centre or is that just pie in the sky?
Is Mark Scheifele the Winnipeg Jets best centre?
To put it flatly, no. Mark Scheifele is not the Winnipeg Jets best centre - at least not yet. Mark Scheifele has looked like a top flight player for half of one injury shortened. That isn't exactly pudding full of proof. That isn't to say that he can't sustain a high level of play at the NHL level, but he hasn't done it yet and until he does, skepticism is warranted.
Skepticism isn't at the core of this though. The main obstacle en route to Mark Scheifele becoming the Winnipeg Jets top centre is Bryan Little. We've talked about this before, but it is worth reiterating that Bryan Little is pretty f***ing good. Little was the 14th highest scoring centre in the league a year ago. Only 11 teams had a centre that out produced Bryan Little. That isn't exactly a low bar.
Is it possible that Mark Scheifele could supplant Bryan Little and out-produce him? Yes. It is possible, but the list of centers that have put up 60 points at 21 years of age is small (available in the linked article).
What's working in Scheifele's favour?
A key factor in NHL production is opportunity. Of course a player's skill level dictates what they do with the ice time they are given, but it has been shown that deployment also weighs in heavily. More minutes means more points - particularly with the man advantage. Better linemates, more points. More offensive zone starts, more points. These things are known and it looks like Mark Scheifele may be in for a forward push in all areas.
Mark Scheifele is set to start the season centering two top end scorers in Evander Kane and Blake Wheeler. Blake Wheeler has been the 6th highest scoring right wing in the league over the last three seasons. Evander Kane ranks among the league's top 20 left wings, despite rarely playing on the team's top powerplay unit. That is some major fire power along side the young Scheif.
We can also deduce, with relative certainty, that the line of Kane, Scheifele and Wheeler won't be logging the tough defensive assignments for the Jets. Andrew Ladd and Bryan Little have done this for most of the Winnipeg Jets 2.0 era. This should lead to some softer minutes for the Scheifele line and it will in all likelihood grant them offensive zone push. Scheifele will be given every opportunity to succeed.
So what can we reasonably expect from Mark Scheifele?
Assuming Mark Scheifele sticks on a line with Blake Wheeler and Evander Kane, we can reasonably expect him to crack the 50 point threshold and it wouldn't be a shock for him to push for 60. That said, the big area to watch won't be in the offensive zone. This trio will need to defend too and if they don't they may not stick and that will likely tank Scheif's nubmers - at least a bit.
Can Scheifele become the big, two-way centre that the Jets need?
Let's hope so. The team needs him to and the youngster will be given every opportunity to prove himself this year, but it is important to remember that he is likely a sold three to five years away from his prime. If his progression resembles baby steps more so that leaps and bounds, that isn't necessarily a bad thing.