WINNIPEG - Mark Scheifele has grown in size, confidence and experience and now the 19-year-old centre says he's ready to play in the NHL—if the Winnipeg Jets agree.
"Overall, I think I've been working over the summer, working through the year, just to get faster, just to get stronger," he said after practice Monday.
Last season the Jets gave Scheifele a shot but decided he wasn't ready for the NHL and sent him back to junior with the Barrie Colts.
He also made Canada's world junior team and acquitted himself well at the championship tournament in Russia, although the team came away without a medal.
While there is no question he wants to graduate this season, he doesn't sound overconfident.
"I think I have to translate what I did in junior and make it even . . . stronger just to be able to withstand an NHL season," he said.
He also admits his defensive skills need some work, and playing on a checking line with experienced hands like Chris Thorburn and Jim Slater could help that process.
Coach Claude Noel says no one is going to pressure Scheifele to do anything he isn't ready for, but he sees improvements.
"Is he going to be a top-six player for us and start there? It's hard to say if he'll land there by the end of the week but he doesn't have to worry about being a top six player," Noel said.
Noel agrees he could play on a third or fourth line and continue to develop. The Jets also are well-stocked at centre right now which could force Scheifele to right wing, although the coach sees him as a centre long-term.
"Do I see him long-term as a right-winger? The answer would be 'not really,'" he said. "But I think it's healthy that he's willing to take part as a right-winger and learn that position. . . It's about development."
Noel says it's too early to say where he might fit on the Jets lineup, if he does stick this season.
"He doesn't have to do anything that he's not capable of," the coach said.
At six-foot-two and 184 pounds, Scheifele has presence on the ice and has led Colts' scorers this season, despite playing fewer games. He's a plus-19 and is a big part of the team's penalty-killing abilities, with Barrie currently atop the OHL's Eastern Conference.
With such a brief period to assess players, Noel says it's tough to make predictions about much after Day 2 of camp, since Day 1 Sunday was more of a fan appreciation day than a real practice.
"They know clearly there's an evaluation taking place," Noel said. "Lines could change tomorrow, D-pairs could change tomorrow. Right now we're just building the foundation of team play."
Scheifele is just another player who has to show where he fits in the big picture.
"As we're watching everybody, we're watching him as well . . .You have to let your game speak for itself, let your actions be the voice of where you're going to land," Noel said.
"I see maturity. I see more comfort for me. . . He just needs to let these things play out."
Meanwhile, as Noel plays with his top lines, newcomer Olli Jokinen has been paired with Evander Kane and Kyle Wellwood.
"They both play with speed and they both play a north-south game and they both like to shoot and they both like offence and they're both in my opinion . . . reliable defensively," Noel said of Kane and Jokinen.
"I just think that for them, the way that they play suits each other."
Practice looks a little different this year with the addition of Perry Pearn as an assistant coach, working with the Jets defence.
"It worked out well for me that an area I liked working on I got a chance to work on," he said of his role.
"When you look at trying to improve as a team and make the playoffs, you have to give up less goals against."