The more I think about this Scheifele situation, the more I think he should stay up with the Jets all year.
I know, I know. If you would kindly stop booing for a second, I’ll try to explain why…
I think Scheifele is different than most highly touted prospects in that he can already think the game at an NHL level. His hockey IQ is pretty much off the charts. I also think his attitude is one that doesn’t require him to go back to junior to “dominate”. His head seems to be screwed on straight enough that he’ll do whatever is necessary to get better, whether he is up here or down in Barrie. For me, the biggest reason to leave a prospect in junior for more seasoning is that he is not ready mentally and/or emotionally to play in the NHL. That just does not appear to be the case with Scheifele.
He obviously needs some work physically (both strength and speed), but I don’t think going back to junior helps him get where he needs to be any faster. As long as he’s physically mature enough to contribute to the team, I don’t think his physical development is an issue. I’ll trust the coaches to determine whether his body can handle an 82 game season at this level. If they determine that it can’t, then that is the one reason I can get behind for sending him back down.
People are quick to say that “he might get ruined if he stays up, but no one ever gets ruined going back down for an extra year”. I believe that, in some cases, going back to junior to rack up 120+ points can result in the player developing bad habits. I don’t want this kid learning to score against boys; I want him learning to score against men. Burmistrov is a great example of someone who clearly was not hurt by playing in the NHL at 18 years of age. Would he be doing this well if he went back to junior last year? I’m not so sure. Yeah, he might have had a great year in junior, but I suspect he’d be spending most of this year adjusting to the pro game. I only compare Burmistrov to Scheifele because I think they are similar in their ability to think the game at a high level.
Admittedly, it was a bit of a shock (for us fans and for Scheifele himself) going from the preseason games to the regular season games. Scheifele was clearly in tougher against the better line-ups when the games meant something, but I’m already seeing signs of progress only 6 games into the season. In the Toronto game, he looked really dangerous offensively, and in the Ottawa game, he finally added an element of physicality to his game. He was actually bumping guys in the corners and he even got into a few minor scrums after the whistle. He wasn’t taking anyone’s head off, but he also wasn’t shying away as much as he had been the previous 5 games. These are both good signs that he has the talent to learn on the fly and improve playing against the best. It also helps a lot that he is not a defensive liability out there.
Some will argue that Scheifele should be sent down just so that we save one of his contract years. While it is a point worth mentioning, I think it’s last in the list of criteria that should be considered. In fact, the whole contract issue can be a double-edged sword. Say for arguments sake, his breakout year occurs when he’s 21 years old. I’d rather have already signed him to his 2nd contract before that big breakout year rather than have to sign him for Doughty money when he’s only coming off his entry level contract. Sure, that is a very specific set of circumstances, but that is kind of my point. Who knows what path this kid’s career will take? His future contracts should not weigh very heavily into this decision. At this point, I don’t care whether he becomes a UFA 1 year earlier, 7 years in the future.
At the end of the day, I’m not going to lose any sleep over this either way. I just want what’s best for the kid long-term. The current group-think seems to be that he HAS to go back to junior. I’m just not so sure it’s that much of a slam dunk decision.