WINNIPEG – It was almost 30 C outside but there was still hockey Monday as the Winnipeg Jets development camp got underway on the edge of the city with 43 young prospects.
Some, such as goaltender Eric Comrie, barely 18, probably have a long way to go before they lace up skates in the NHL.
But others, such as centre Mark Scheifele, 20, could have a far more immediate impact on the future of a team that is trying to get a lot better this season.
This is Scheifele’s third such camp and he says he has one thing on his mind—making the team that made him their first draft pick in 2011. He was also the first draft pick of the Jets period, since the former Thrashers had just relocated to Winnipeg from Atlanta.
“I’m working my hardest to be on the team full time this year,” Scheifele said after the first day on the ice.
The biggest thing Scheifele suggests he needs is strength and he is certainly a little bigger and stronger looking than he was in 2011.
Scheifele and 2012 draft pick Jacob Trouba have been training with Gary Roberts. The retired NHL left-winger, who played 21 seasons in the league, runs a high-performance centre in Toronto.
“I’ve been there just over a month now. I’ve already seen huge gains in my body and my strength,” said Scheifele.
He also says it’s good to have someone like Trouba around. Scheifele played for Canada and Trouba, the Jets top pick last year, for the United States in the world juniors.
The U.S. won gold and Canada came home without a medal this year at the competition, something Trouba admits he brings up now and then.
“We still joke about the world juniors quite a bit but we do push each other,” said Scheifele.
The Jets have tried him out twice at the beginning of the last two seasons but both times felt he needed more seasoning and sent him back to his OHL junior team, the Barrie Colts, coached by a former original Winnipeg Jet, Dale Hawerchuk.
Scheifele developed into a major offensive threat in the OHL, leading his Colts to within one game of qualifying for the Memorial Cup this year. He was injured and had to watch as they lost Game 7 and missed the tournament.
“It was honestly the hardest thing I’ve ever done, to watch the game from the stands and not able to be out there in game seven. . . It was the toughest feeling I’ve ever had to deal with, to see the guys heartbroken like that and not being able to be with them.”
This is the year many expect him to graduate but he suggests the pressure is the same he has felt every year.
“I think there’s always pressure. I put a lot of pressure on myself every year I’ve been here.”
The Jets have 22 forwards, 15 defencemen and six goaltenders in camp, which lasts until Friday.
Trouba also says the competitive spirit he and possible future teammate Scheifele bring to their training with Roberts is a good thing.
“We’re pretty good friends and I think the kind of people we are we’re both pretty competitive people. . . I think it’s good and it’s healthy for our relationship,” he said.
“I want this place to be home for quite a while for me and I’m working hard to get there. . . I feel better than I have my whole career.”