TORONTO – The pack of hockey players arrived at the small rink with a to-do list of goals.
Some came looking to get fit ahead of the new season, while others wanted to work out the kinks in their game.
Mark Scheifele stepped onto the ice hoping the extra effort leads him—now, not later—to the jersey he’s been chasing for two years.
“My goal is to earn a spot on the Jets, and that’s what I’m going to go to camp and do, and do whatever it takes to get that spot,” he said Monday.
The Winnipeg Jets prospect is among 49 players taking part in the BioSteel strength and conditioning camp being run by former NHL player Gary Roberts and former Toronto Maple Leafs trainer Matt Nichol.
The players, including stars such as Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos and Montreal’s P.K. Subban, take part in a mix of off-ice workouts, on-ice drills and finally a tournament over four days to get ready for the start of NHL training camps in September.
Scheifele is hoping the work leads to a permanent spot on the Jets’ roster.
The 20-year-old centre was drafted seventh overall by Winnipeg in 2011, but has played only 11 career NHL games before twice being sent back down to play for the Ontario Hockey League’s Barrie Colts.
He took what he felt like a major step forward last season.
Scheifele led all skaters with 41 points during the playoffs en route to the Colts’ Game 7 loss against the London Knights in the OHL final. He was also 13th in points overall during the regular season with 39 goals and 40 assists in just 45 games.
“I think this year’s been a huge stepping stone for me,” said Scheifele. “I think the year helped me out a lot and also this summer, I think I’ve had the best summer of my whole career.
“So I think I’m looking for big things in myself. I’m definitely pushing myself to get that spot.”
Being in good company couldn’t hurt either.
Scheifele was excited to share the ice with Stamkos, while also pointing out Pittsburgh’s James Neil and Detroit’s Stephen Weiss as players he wants to learn from in his first year at the camp.
“Obviously Stamkos is an unbelievable player,” said Scheifele. “Sixty goal scorer in the NHL, which is pretty unbelievable, so it’ll going to be good to be on the ice with him. Obviously Neil as well, so it will be fun.”
Scheifele is one of three OHL players—the others include 16-year-old Erie Otters phenom Connor McDavid and Belleville Bulls goaltender Malcolm Subban—on the camp’s roster that features four AHL players, two from the ECHL, one U.S. college player and another from Europe.
Players pay to attend the camp at St. Michael’s College School with different expectations.
Buffalo Sabres centre Cody Hodgson, for example, wants power.
“A lot more power,” he said. “Working with Gary in the off-season, I’m going to the Buffalo workouts as well, just trying to get stronger in all areas but make sure I’m explosive in my shot and playing harder in front of the net, that kind of thing.”
Neal, along with Stamkos and P.K. Subban, is preparing for Canada’s Olympic orientation camp Aug. 25-28 in Calgary.
Neal said he’s trained with Roberts for a decade, and that the BioSteel camp is an extra boost to the start of the season.
“It’s a little earlier this year, but with all the guys out here it’s a good way to get in shape, get back in the flow of things and get into a little bit of a routine,” said Neal.
For Scheifele, that routine involves learning how to take care of his body and develop his game.
The six-foot-two, 184-pound native of Kitchener, Ont., describes himself as a two-way centre willing to make plays and shoot when the moment is right. Put another way, Scheifele wants to be good at everything.
“For the most part it’s just I’m more confident with myself,” he said. “I’ve matured physically, I think I’ve matured mentally as well. Confident with my game, confident with what I can do, I think that helps a lot when I get on the ice.”
Whether or not Scheifele’s progress leads to a Jets jersey being pulled over his head this season is another matter, but he’s not too concerned.
“It’s going to take a lot of hard work, but I’m ready to do it.”
Follow Tyler Harper on Twitter at @tyler_harper