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Scheifele strives to be the best

Winnipeg's top scorer says he wants to be better than two of the game's very best -- Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid

by Jamie Thomas @JamieThomasTV / WinnipegJets.com

It's mid-September and Jets forward Mark Scheifele is clear on a couple of things.

First, making the playoffs.

"We have to make it this year," he said. "I think we have the team that has the ability to do big things. We can't be complacent, we can't be satisfied with being good every other game. We have to focus on being consistent each and every night and know if we do that, we'll be successful, we'll make the playoffs and hopefully have a long run."

Have your attention yet? Wait for the next one.

He wants to be better than Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid - two of the game's very best, who he trailed by only seven and 18 points, respectively, in the 2016-17 scoring race by year's end.

That was a comment he made during an interview at the NHL Media Tour at the league offices in New York before training camp, and it wasn't a spur-of-the-moment-type quip.

In fact, he'd been thinking about it for a long time.

"You want to be the best and I've seen Connor and Sid are the two guys that are at the top of the chart. It's something I definitely think about every day. Everything I do, I think about if Connor or Crosby are doing this, and that's kind of what motivates you. You want to get that edge on them."

Video: TOR@WPG: Scheifele one-times Laine's terrific dish

Scheifele had a taste of leading the NHL in scoring - something he did until Nov. 21 of last year - and while some players would say they don't pay attention to milestones and stats, the 24-year-old was aware of where he stood and uses that fact as even more motivation.

"You want to be the guy that pushes for more," Scheifele said. "I've got to do more work, I've got to work harder at staying here [next time]. That's the toughest thing. It's easier getting there but it's harder to stay there, and that's obviously what the best players in the world do. …  I don't want to have just one good year where I'm up there. I want to be there each and every season and be fighting for it each and every year."

Head Coach Paul Maurice is one of Scheifele's biggest fans and believes his top centreman has already achieved elite status in this league.

"He is now and he's looking for a far higher ceiling," Maurice said. "The tell for fans, it won't be his points. He capped out at 82 last year, but he's thinking about hundreds and we're all for it. But the big jump in our game is him driving the whole game, at both ends of the rink out against the other teams' best and producing. And He's very close to that now. I'm running him against the other teams' best already."

With the quality of players that Scheifele is competing with for the Art Ross Trophy, he realizes how special it was to be on top of the pack and so did his family.

"Every time my parents saw the NHL scoring leaders in the paper they cut it out," Scheifele said. "I definitely took a picture of where it was me, Connor and Stammer (Steven Stamkos) all at the top. We all work out together and it was kind of funny to see all of us at the top."

Video: ANA@WPG: Scheifele buries the game-winner in OT

You would think his friendship with Stamkos and other top players from other teams would make it hard to forget when he plays against them, but that's not the case.

"We're all competitors. It's not like you're going to take it easy on one of your buddies," he said. "If they're a friend of yours, you almost want to go harder on them. I think that competition is just the way we are. We're all competitive, we all want to be the best and that's what I like about the game. For me, I get to work out with some of the best players in the world and skate with them everyday. I think that makes me a better player.

"Obviously you're not going to tell everyone everything. There's a part of it where you want to get the edge on a guy and you want to better than him, but you're also pushing each and every day. If he's doing something you want to do it a little bit better than he does. You want to be little faster, a little stronger. If they do something cool, then I do something cool, whatever it is. That's the way I look at it."

Scheifele isn't always on the ice or working out in his push to become the best player he can, which over the course of an 82-game season, could cause him to burn out. There's plenty rest and relaxation on the schedule, too, which helps him get away from the game during the busier times when mental fatigue becomes just as much, if not more of a factor than the physical side.

Video: MIN@WPG: Scheifele beats Kuemper with wicked wrister

"I usually relax with buddies, with family," Scheifele said. "That's the biggest thing for me, I definitely value my friends and family time a lot. That's kind of my time away from the game."

Of course, he can only stay away for so long. After all, hockey is what he lives for.

"My parents obviously know me better than anyone else in this world. They know if I'm going too far, but they know I want to be the best and I want to do everything in my power to succeed, and they're always behind me no matter what."

A good example of his efforts to separate himself from the game every once in a while came on a recent trip to New York to take in the final major of the tennis season, the U.S. Open, where he saw Roger Federer in action for the first time.

"I've been a tennis fan my whole life," Scheifele said. "My parents played growing up, so that meant me, my brother and sister kind of did, too. We grew up watching tennis, we saw my parents enjoyed watching it and we are all big Federer fans. I've seen him at the Rogers Cup, but I was in New York and I said there's no way I'm not going to this, so we got tickets. I know my mom wants to go to Wimbledon, so that's one thing I definitely want to do for her is to take her to Wimbledon and experience that one day."

It doesn't get any better than Wimbledon.

Scheifele always sets the bar high.

- Jamie Thomas, WinnipegJets.com

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