Last year at this time, Winnipeg Jets’ top prospect Mark Scheifele was making the big bucks with the big club.
Today, the Kitchener native is one of the many casualties of the National Hockey League lockout, biding his time with the Ontario Hockey League’s Barrie Colts while anticipating a repeat appearance for the Canadian world junior team.
Although he is honest with his frustration at not getting a second kick at the proverbial big time, he is staying focused on thriving in his current situation.
“It is disappointing right now,” Scheifele said, after scoring the shootout winner over the Mississauga Steelheads on Friday at the Hershey Centre.
“But [the lockout] is something that’s part of the game, and I just have to think about the positives right now. There is no downside in playing in Barrie, we have a great team, and I’m learning things every day.”
At 6-foot-3 and 187 lbs., Scheifele is still working on filling out his power forward frame and re-capturing the form that saw him make the big team straight out of training camp last season after being the new Jets’s first draft-pick.
Winnipeg’s brass, including general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, have given him specific objectives along those lines heading into this campaign.
“I’ve talked to them about what I have to do to be ready for the next step,” Scheifele said.
“They told me that I need to get bigger and stronger, and that is what I’m trying to do. I’m just trying to dominate each game and be a big force out there, and that’s what I have been focusing on.”
One benefit the 19-year-old has is that he remains eligible to represent Canada in the 2013 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championships upcoming Dec. 26-Jan. 5 in Omsk, Russia.
Scheifele has suited up for Canada three times before, including scoring six points over six games for the 2012 bronze-winning team at the Under-20s in Calgary, and the victorious Canada-Russia series that took place in Yaroslavl and Halifax this past summer.
“Obviously [representing Canada in the 2013 World Juniors] is something that I want to happen,” he said.
“It still leaves a bittersweet taste in my mouth after finishing third last year. I want to go back and go for a gold, and I don’t want to get anything less because I know exactly how disappointed I felt after the fact.”
So far, after 10 points in six games for the Colts this year, Scheifele has looked every bit the pro-ready player many believe him to be.
His coach, Dale Hawerchuk, another former Jet who knows a thing or two about being in the spotlight, has given him the best advice he can think of to battle off any distraction caused by his plight.
“I have told him that there is nothing he can do about it,” said Barrie’s bench boss.
“That’s one thing as a coach you always try to teach your players — all you can control is what you do day in and day out, and if you waste time thinking about something else, that’s time you cannot get back.”
Hawerchuk, who also represented Canada numerous times throughout his career, has no qualms concerning the concentration of any of his young players as a result of the attention Schefiele receives.
Ryan O’Connor, Barrie’s captain, echoes his coach’s sentiments.
“We’re just happy that he’s back,” he said. “He’s a big part of this team and whatever happens with the NHL we’ll be happy for him, but for right now it’s good to have him back.
“He’s just one of the guys, he’s a big part of this team and everything is just normal in the room.”
In spite of everything going on in Scheifele’s life, the bright-eyed teen who turns 20 next March has only one main ambition.
“My goal right now is to make it to Winnipeg,” he said, on his way out of the arena.