TORONTO - In the back of Mark Scheifele's mind, the clock is ticking.
The Winnipeg Jets rookie could be down to his last week to show team management that he deserves to stay in the NHL this season. With Scheifele playing his fifth game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night, the Jets inched closer to having to make a decision on his future.
The 18-year-old centre is doing his best to ignore the looming deadline.
"I don't want to think about that too much," Scheifele said Tuesday morning. "I think I'm able to take that pressure and kind of turn it into motivation and turn it into that determination to work even harder."
The Jets can use Scheifele in nine games before the first year of his entry-level contract kicks in. They're currently in a stretch of four games in six nights that will be followed by a visit to Philadelphia on Oct. 27—their ninth game of the season.
A decision will likely come at that point, although it could be prolonged slightly if Scheifele is scratched beforehand.
Scheifele helped his cause Wednesday night, scoring his first career goal in the Jets' 4-3 shootout loss against Toronto.
The seventh overall pick from June's draft forced his way into Winnipeg's opening night lineup with a strong pre-season, but hasn't been able to make the same impact early in the regular season. He was held pointless in his first four games and saw just one shift in the third period of Winnipeg's victory over Pittsburgh on Monday night.
"It's definitely been tough," said Scheifele. "It's a big jump up from pre-season for sure. Everyone's a lot smarter, everyone's a lot bigger, faster and stronger. ...
"I've just got to keep working hard to stay all year."
The team has done its best to manage expectations around the youngster. Prior to the start of the season, coach Claude Noel told the Winnipeg Free Press he'd be "stunned" if Scheifele was sent back to the Ontario Hockey League's Barrie Colts this year.
His words have been much more measured on the topic since then.
"We've got some time to make assessments on him," Noel said Tuesday. "We'll do what's best for him in the long run. Where we're at, management's got to kind of sort through that stuff there. He's playing, he's been in all the games.
"So we'll see how he goes."
If Scheifele ends up getting sent back to junior, he'll return with a sense of what it takes to play pro hockey at its highest level.
The biggest eye-opener off the ice has been the close attention NHLers dedicate to their diet—"Last year, sometimes I'd go and eat Wendy's and stuff like that," he confessed—and seeing how tiring it can be to play games all over the continent.
There have also been some unforgettable experiences like participating in Winnipeg's return to the NHL after 15 years and cashing his first paycheque, which came in at a little over US$71,000 before taxes and other deductions.
"It was pretty cool," said Scheifele. "Going from the summer I had $7 in my bank account. It's a pretty cool jump up."