The Winnipeg Jets have been on a roll of late and their chances of pushing themselves out of a wild card spot and into a divisional slot are going to get a big help Thursday night with the return of Mark Scheifele to the lineup.
Scheifele, 23, has missed the past three games with a lower-body injury, and Scheifele said Thursday that the issue had to do with his hamstring, according to the Winnipeg Sun’s Ken Wiebe. The worst part about the injury, Scheifele said, was that he kept thinking he was going to be able to suit up only to be forced out of the lineup.
“It was an up in the air thing, and every morning you’re anxious to see how you’re going to feel. It was definitely tough mentally,” Scheifele said. “Today when I woke up and got on the ice I felt fine, continued to skate and it got better and better. I’m definitely very happy.”
The Jets get Scheifele back just as they’re about to enter a home tilt against the New York Rangers. If Winnipeg can pick up two points, they’ll move from the second wild card spot in the Western Conference into third place in the Central Division, leapfrogging the inactive Wild. That said, the Wild will have five games in hand on the Jets.
While much of the talk this season has (rightfully) been about the play of rookie Patrik Laine, Scheifele is putting together the best season of his young career and continuing the hot run of play that he had to closed out the past campaign. Through the first 26 games of the campaign, Scheifele had posted 13 goals and 13 assists, paced the Jets with 26 points and his point per game pace is far and away the best of his career. If he continues scoring at this rate, he could end the year with a 40-goal, 80-point campaign.
The timing for the career year is perfect for Scheifele, too. Winnipeg can be a tough market, but since signing his sizeable eight-year, $49-million extension in the off-season, everything — sans the injury, of course — has been coming up Scheifele.
With his return to the lineup, one of the coach Paul Maurice’s recent experiments will come to an end as winger Blake Wheeler will move out of the middle and back to his normal spot on the top line. Maurice had been running the Jets captain as a center in Scheifele’s absence, but he’ll now be skating alongside Scheifele in his usual spot.
The healthy return of Scheifele also marks a sign of some players coming off the injured list for the Jets, too. There’s still a way to go before the team is completely healthy, though. Tyler Myers, Shawn Matthias, Joel Armia and Nic Petan all remain on the injured reserve.
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