WINNIPEG – Mark Scheifele may have a sore jaw with all the smiling he’s been doing these days.
The 18-year-old centre was beaming again Monday after signing an entry-level contract with the Winnipeg Jets.
“I’m definitely very pumped,” Scheifele said. “To sign an NHL contract has been a dream of mine and to get a chance to play in a regular-season game is unbelievable.
“I want to be there so bad and I want to work my hardest and I’m going to really give it my all every practice, every off-ice workout, every game.”
The Jets have nine games to decide whether to keep this year’s first-round draft pick (seventh overall) or send the Kitchener, Ont., native back for a second year of junior with the Ontario Hockey League’s Barrie Colts.
Winnipeg general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said Scheifele has potential, but how long he sticks with the big club is up in the air.
“Right now, there really are no expectations,” he said.
“He’ll be in the lineup opening night (Sunday against the Montreal Canadiens) and we’ll take it day by day in those regards. There’s no guarantees of anything.”
Scheifele’s pre-season was a memorable one. He had two goals and two assists in his first game and wound up with four goals (including three on the power play) and eight points in five games. That was good for second place in NHL pre-season scoring behind Dallas’ Mike Ribeiro, who had two goals and 10 points.
Cheveldayoff did outline some things Scheifele will have to do to earn a long stay.
“I think he’s got to show that he can continue on the path of consistency and show that he’s physically mature,” he said.
“This is still about development and the National Hockey League is a very tough league to develop in. He has to show that he’s showing progression each and every time.”
Scheifele quickly became a fan favourite during the pre-season. Fans chanted his name and at one game a young female wore a T-shirt that read “Every Day I’m Scheifelein.”
“He has shown tremendous maturity with respect to how he’s taken everything, but I think that’s a testament to him, his parents, his upbringing,” Cheveldayoff said.
“I know that when we met with him at the draft and we talked to him, he had a genuine sense of being a humble person. He loves to play the game, that smile on his face is very genuine. It’s there all the time.”
In his first season with the Barrie Colts, Scheifele led all rookies with 53 assists and added 22 goals for 75 points in 66 games.
After the season ended, he competed at the Under-18 World Championships and led Canada with six goals in seven games. He was also one of 46 players invited to Hockey Canada’s national junior team development camp in August.
Jets head coach Claude Noel didn’t speak to the media after Monday’s practice, but he has praised Scheifele.
“I absolutely love the kid,” Noel told reporters after his team’s final pre-season game last Friday. “And I think our whole organization does.
“He scored again tonight. Look at the stats from the league. I’ve seen enough, let’s put it that way, to know that over the course of games that I’ve watched him that he’s an excellent player.
“And I don’t only look at what he presents, such as skill and stuff like that, but it’s his mind that’s so sharp.”
Jets captain Andrew Ladd said Monday he’s available to help Scheifele on and off the ice.
“I think we’re all excited for him today,” Ladd said. “I think everyone’s just been impressed with his maturity throughout the process.
“As a young player, you tend to be high and low and high and low. He’s just kind of steady, just keeps going and keeps an even keel with his play.”
That also includes Scheifele’s play when he doesn’t have the puck.
“Obviously, the offensive part of his game has been exceptional,” Ladd said. “But the little things he does away from the puck is what has really stood out for me.”
While the Jets’ lines haven’t been confirmed, Scheifele might start on the second line with third-year winger Evander Kane.