Scouts may have had to look a little harder to fully appreciate Mark Scheifele, but those who did certainly liked what they saw.
The 6-foot-2, 177-pound center spent his first season of junior hockey with the Barrie Colts, which ended up being one of the least-successful teams in Canadian major junior hockey. Having lost key players Alexander Burmistrov and Alex Pietrangelo to the NHL, the Colts went from being the Ontario Hockey League’s best team to its worst in just one year, posting a record of 15-49-4 this past season.
Although the Colts as a team may not have been much of a factor, Scheifele certainly wasn’t to blame. His 75 points in 66 games were fourth among OHL rookies, while his 53 assists led all first-year players and tied him for seventh overall.
Those numbers alone would seem to make him a good bet to join Burmistrov and Pietrangelo as a first-round NHL draft pick, but there is some debate as to how Barrie’s misfortune affected his scoring totals. Some think his increased ice time and status as a clear go-to guy may have artificially enhanced his totals, while others believe that his lack of support and the attention he drew from opposing defenders make his success more remarkable.
Count the Hurricanes in the latter group.
“Two things happen in a situation like that – you don’t get the talent level that surrounds the player and you also get in a situation where a good player on a bad team plays an enormous amount,” said Hurricanes Vice President and Assistant General Manager Jason Karmanos. “One of the more impressive things that he did this year was the type of production he had on a relatively bad team.”
“After a time he was targeted by the opposition as a guy that they needed to stop,” said Tony MacDonald, the Hurricanes’ director of amateur scouting. “The fact that he was still able to produce is a good thing.”
Still, it took an impressive performance at the World Under-18 Championship in April to really enhance his overall stock. Playing with the best players his age, Scheifele co-led all Canadian forwards in scoring with 8 points (6g, 2a) in seven games. On his team, only a pair of defensemen, including the previously-profiled Ryan Murphy, scored more.
“His performance at the under-18s showed what he can do while getting more support from his teammates,” said MacDonald.
“If there were any doubts that he was a good prospect, I think he dispelled those doubts with his performance,” said Karmanos.
That tournament and his 11-goals-in-18 games finish with Barrie caused Scheifele to rise in various draft rankings, including a 26-spot jump from No. 44 to No. 18 by the International Scouting Service. Similar to Jeff Skinner one year earlier, that placement, along with his status as the NHL Central Scouting Service’s No. 16 North American skater, might still be too low.
“He’s a good faceoff guy who plays in all situations,” said MacDonald. “He may not project to score quite as much at the NHL level, but he reminds of a young Eric Staal in the way he plays the game. He’s a big kid with good reach.”
“He skates well for his size and plays a solid, two-way game,” said Karmanos. “Scheifele has good playmaking abilities but can also put the puck in the net.”
The Hurricanes also like Scheifele’s character intangibles, feeling he kept a positive attitude despite his difficult situation. In what would become a microcosm of his season, he scored a hat trick in his home debut – a 9-3 loss. Things wouldn’t get much better from there.
“Losing has a tendency to wear you down, but he responded well to the challenge,” said MacDonald. “There were very few indications that he was frustrated, and his body language and energy level were always consistent. That’s a good sign.”