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Mark Scheifele is coming into his own

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In the absence of Winnipeg Jets 1C Bryan Little, Mark Scheifele is stepping up in a big way.

Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

Losing your number one centre is quite the blow. But in professional sports, injuries lead to opportunities for others. Mark Scheifele has 13 points in the nine games the Winnipeg Jets have been without their number one centre, Bryan Little. That stretch includes Scheifele recording a hat trick against the Montreal Canadiens on Hockey Night in Canada and being named the NHL's second star of the week. Scheifele is in the midst of a breakout season and his contributions are really starting to maximize over this last little stretch.

In his third season, Scheifele has a career high 21 goals and has totalled up to 41 points throughout 55 contests. #55 has improved in all areas this season. He's become a more reliable player in both zones and seems to have really put on some muscle.

Scheifele has often been criticized over being too soft and having poor balance. Tweets of #ScheifeleDown have been disappearing from the Twitterverse, as Scheifele isn't being tossed around anymore. He no longer looks like a junior hockey player; he's got the NHL frame. His offseason regimen with workout guru and ex-NHL player Gary Roberts seems to be paying off.

By no means is Scheifele a wrecking ball physically, but he's shown improved tendencies when in the tough areas and done a much better job of standing his ground. Early on in his career, when the goals weren't coming, Scheifele was still improving in his own end. Over the last two seasons, as he is starting to produce more offence, he hasn't forgotten his defensive responsibilities.

Scheifele has done everything he's been asked to do and more. At 22 years old, with injuries and trades shaking up the look of the team, Scheifele has continued to thrive despite the losing atmosphere surrounding the Jets. Scheifele can gel with anyone and seems to have really gained the trust of head coach Paul Maurice. He has looked great alongside Jets rookie Nikolaj Ehlers and team leading scorer Blake Wheeler. And when paired with guys such as Mathieu Perreault or Drew Stafford, his game picks up where it left off. He's at a point this season where his play makes his teammates better; that says a lot about a 22 year old.

It won't be long before Scheifele is considered a veteran by NHL standards. He's already been leading by example like a veteran does, giving it his all night in and night out.

This all is coming together for Scheifele just as he is due for a raise. Scheifele is an RFA at season's end and has stated he'd be happy spending his entire career in Winnipeg. That's a pretty bold statement, and one which should make Jets management and fans perk up. It's hard to find players that want to play in Winnipeg (especially long-term) and that's a reality this market simply has to deal with. When the Jets have someone who has the potential to be an impact player for years to come wanting to play in Winnipeg long-term, you need to treat him right.

The Jets should be doing everything in their power to retain Scheifele on a long-term deal, rather than offering a bridge contract. Winnipeg shouldn't shy away from showing Scheifele the money. With a rising cap in the coming seasons and Scheifele's game really starting to take flight, a big payday now rather than in two years could be a worthwhile gamble. Winnipeg will have to pay the piper eventually; locking him up long-term might mean very real savings down the road.

In a year that hasn't seen many bright spots, the play of Mark Scheifele has been a consistent source of happiness and promise for Jets fans.

It certainly won't be easy, but with 16 games remaining can Scheifele hit 30 goals?

At this pace, why not?