Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Do The Scheifele

Dale Hawerchuck sat in his office and watched the press buzz in Winnipeg on a small TV in the corner. Replays of Mark Chipmans announcement where a common theme among the sports channels and the old Jet sat back watching with more than a twinge of nostalgia. He got up, opened the door and walked down the hall. The familiar smell of an ice rink was there, along with the heavy sound of pucks smacking into the boards. Hawerchuck found a seat and settled himself in, while reaching into his jacket pocket to retrieve his cell phone. On the ice members of  the Barrie Colts where enjoying an informal summer skate. Hawerchuck made the call, "Ya Zinger, it's Ducky" he said in an abruptness that only came with familiarity. "I've got a kid you need to look at".

I have no idea if that's how it happened but that's my romanticized version of the events and until someone tells me different that's what I'm going with. Of course the kid is Mark Scheifele and we all know what happens next in the story. The kid becomes the Jets first round pick and goes on to look like the best thing since ladies yoga pants.

Here's what was supposed to happen next. Scheifele was supposed to go to the young stars tournament and be the best player there - check. He was then supposed to go to the big camp, show flashes of offensive brilliance but ultimately get shut down by NHL defenses in pre-season play. He would then get ceremoniously shipped back to Barrie as "The one to watch", and we would tie the story up with a nice little bow until next fall. But wait, all did not go according to plan.

Instead this new experimental Jet pots a goal a game along with some beautiful assists thrown in for good measure. The big league defensemen and goalies look just as baffled as their junior counterparts by this kid who seems to always be in the right place at the right time. A good problem to have so we might think, but  this proves to be the ultimate dilemma. Common wisdom would suggest that it is far to early to bring a player like Scheifele into the NHL . Scheifele needs ice time and first line experience to keep him on an upward trajectory in his development arc. That would mean going back to Barrie and ripping up the OHL for at least one more season before trying making the jump to the big club. The problem with that is we need a reason to send him back, and so far he hasn't given us one.

There are some familiar frames of reference that I can draw upon as an observer of the Vancouver hockey. If we look back we can weed out some famous flame outs from Canucks pre-season play, the most famous probably being Jason King. Now I know what your thinking, King was a different animal. He already had a season with the Moose under his belt, and was hardly a superstar hopeful. Still in the pre-season and the subsequent first five games of the regular season he was averaging two points a game. He then went on to flame out in spectacular style, eventually being relegated to the AHL and then into hockey oblivion. Was King a victim of being brought up to soon, who knows, but it does illustrate the danger.

We can also look at Gilbert Brule who was a stud with the Vancouver Giants and was ultimately brought up too early by a struggling Columbus Blue Jackets club in the 2005-06 season. He walked away from that season with a broken sternum, broken leg, shattered confidence and a ticket back to the WHL. He is just now finding his NHL game in a second chance with the Edmonton Oilers.

I think what I'm trying to do is here is convince not only you the reader but myself that this kid needs more time. We all want to see a "Dale Hawerchuck 2.0" join the Jets for their historic first season back in the NHL, but the hard truth is that no matter how well he does in pre-season it would probably be a huge mistake to bring him up to the big club full time.

The first thing we need to do is let this kid grow into his body. If he joins the NHL now and puts up some numbers, he'll become a target. He'll need more meat on that lanky frame to withstand the punishment of an 80+ game season. Second he needs to learn how to be a top six guy, not a third or fourth liner. If he can't legitimately step into one of those top six spots then he shouldn't be with the big club. Third, young offensive talent needs ice time. This kid needs to be out there for big minutes and facing a variety of situations. if you can't give it to him, his talent will wither on the vine.

So what do we do? Tell the kid to stop looking awesome? I guess not, but if he keeps scoring goals it will definitely be tough to send him back. I'm hoping that this will sort itself  out on its own. Sceifele will get a look during the regular season, at which time the opposition, with paychecks on the line will introduce this kid to real NHL hockey and shut him down. I know that sounds counter productive, but I really do think another year in Junior is what he needs

But what if they don't shut him down ..........

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