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Jets’ Scheifele deserving of mention alongside league’s best scorers

Mark Scheifele enters the post-break schedule seventh in scoring, and it’s been his work ethic and drive to improve his game that has made him one of the league’s most prolific scorers over the past two seasons.

Mark Scheifele doesn’t get the credit he deserves. He’s not often on the highlight reels, he doesn’t get the press of other top line centers and with the all-star game coming and going over the past weekend, few — if any — mentioned how bizarre it was that Scheifele was the only player in the top 10 in league scoring who wasn’t participating in Los Angeles.

One can understand why Scheifele has been overshadowed this season. Patrik Laine’s emergence as a top rookie scorer has captured the gaze of hockey fans everywhere, Blake Wheeler is entering his first season as captain, there’s the outsized personality of Dustin Byfuglien to compete with and, more than anything, goaltending issues have cast a cloud over just about everything going on in Winnipeg. The fact remains, though, that Scheifele still doesn’t get the credit he deserves.

“He brings it for us on a regular basis and quietly he’s inched his way up on the points side of it,” Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said of Scheifele. “But he’ll be the first to tell you that this is a team sport and it’s about the team. He’s wearing a letter on his jersey now, first time at the pro level doing that, there’s a level of maturity that does come from there, and there’s still growth from there.”

Scheifele has proven Cheveldayoff right this season, too. He’s not done growing, and that’s a scary thought for opposing defenses. Over the past two seasons, the list of players who have been as impressive offensively as Scheifele and as consistent on a game-to-game basis isn’t all that long. 

From the start of 2015-16, Scheifele ranks 10th with 51 goals and 20th with 109 points. His company in the goal column includes Max Pacioretty, John Tavares, Tyler Seguin and Nikita Kucherov. In points, Scheifele is right alongside Johnny Gaudreau, Brad Marchand, Jeff Carter and Joe Thornton. On a pure points per game rate, Scheifele is in lockstep with Alex Ovechkin and a hair ahead of Steven Stamkos. But what Scheifele has done offensively over the past two seasons is most highlighted by his play across the past calendar year. 

From Jan. 30, 2016 on, Scheifele is keeping some pretty exclusive company when it comes to putting points on the board. In the 82 games over the past 365 days, Scheifele’s 85 points are the third-most in the league, behind only Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid. That means Scheifele sits ahead of players such as Brent Burns, Patrick Kane, Artemi Panarin and Vladimir Tarasenko. And if you’re thinking that his standing on the points register comes from a wide advantage in games played, that’s not the case. In fact, in terms of points per game, only Crosby, McDavid and Evgeni Malkin are scoring at a better pace than Scheifele’s rate of 1.04.

The difference maker for Scheifele — who has seen his point totals rise from mid-30s to an 80-point pace in four seasons — is the amount of hard work he puts into improving his game. You can see it in practices, when Scheifele fires puck after puck, aiming at a seemingly invisible target and not satisfied until he hits it just right, and you can see it in the warmup before a game, where Scheifele is usually one of, if not the last player to leave the ice.

“It’s interesting,” Cheveldayoff said. “Because if you take a look at where Mark is now and where he came from, this is a player who has worked extremely hard at every single level. It just underscores how much work has to go into becoming the player that your talent allows you to become.”

There’s still room for Scheifele to grow as a player, build his overall game and continue to stake his claim as one of the league’s best top-line centers. Defensively, he can improve, but he’s starting to understand the responsibility that comes with being a top guy on a team looking to take an important step forward.

Cheveldayoff said that for some, they might look at what Scheifele is doing now and has accomplished over the course of the past two seasons and think this has been his “A-ha!” moment, that finally he’s hitting his stride. Others will realize that Scheifele is only 23, soon to be 24, and it’s not all that hard to close your eyes and think back to Cheveldayoff calling Scheifele’s name as the Jets made the seventh pick at the 2011 draft. While Scheifele may have seemed a draft reach at the time, it’s looking like a brilliant choice for Winnipeg.

“As an organization, we’re thrilled to have him, thrilled when we drafted him and still think there’s improvement to be had in his game,” Cheveldayoff said. “That will help us get to another level.”

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