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Scheifele of Jets aims to be at 'very top' of NHL

Center pushing to be better than Crosby, McDavid

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

Six players finished ahead of Winnipeg Jets center Mark Scheifele in scoring last season. These were their names: Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane, Nicklas Backstrom, Nikita Kucherov and Brad Marchand.

Pretty good, eh?

"Could have been better," Scheifele said with a laugh.

Wait. What?

Better?

"Oh, yeah," Scheifele said. "There's no doubt in my mind. In this sport, you can't say, 'Oh, you know, that was great. I just hope to stay amongst them.' I'm pushing to be better than Connor, better than Sid."

Whoa.

Better than McDavid? Better than Crosby?

In pixels, that might look cocky. But in an interview at the NHL Player Media Tour at the League offices last week, it sounded more like confident, committed, uncompromising. This is a guy Jets coach Paul Maurice said will be the team captain someday, and the more you listen, the more you understand why.

"Obviously they're pretty lofty goals," Scheifele said. "Those guys are special players. They work unbelievably hard at their game. But at one time last year, I was top in the League in scoring."

Video: Jets' Scheifele pushing to better than Sid, Connor

Scheifele, 24, led the NHL in scoring as late as Nov. 21. He had played 21 games, a quarter of the season.

"In my mind, I see it as, if I stay more consistent, there's no reason why I can't stay there," Scheifele said. "I've just got to continue to push. I've got some great linemates, which helps me. We've got a great [defense] corps behind us. I'm going to continue to push to be the best and not just be mentioned in that company, but be at the very top."

It isn't that Scheifele doesn't respect the competition; it's that he does. He called Crosby the best player in the world. Without prompting, he brought up Crosby's all-round game and work ethic. He made the end goal clear.

"It's about getting your team into the playoffs and trying to win a Stanley Cup," Scheifele said. "That's why I try to get better and I hope every guy on the team is trying to get better."

After the Jets missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, Scheifele played for Canada at the IIHF World Championship. He returned home to the Toronto area and was on the ice the next day. He spent the offseason working on conditioning with Gary Roberts and skills with Adam Oates.

Scheifele and Oates, a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame and former NHL coach who now tutors individuals, would watch a Jets game and go over each play Scheifele made. What was he thinking? What where the possibilities? Could he have executed those possibilities? If not, why not? Did he take the wrong angle? Where his hands in the right spot? Was his footwork right? Then they would take that to the ice.

"If you think about a shortstop in baseball, every single pitch, the guy's ready to react to when the bat hits the ball," Oates said in a telephone interview. "Well, we're doing the same thing within our game. The shortstop can move in any direction if it's a foul ball, if it's hit right to him, if it's a grounder, short hop, easy hop, bad hop. In hockey, we have our version of that. Sometimes the puck's bouncing; sometimes it's flat. Sometimes it's against the boards; sometimes it's off the boards. And the better you get at all the possibilities, the better you become."

Video: PHI@WPG: Scheifele blisters home Wheeler's feed

Oates said it was his job to make it "not quite so boring every day." But Scheifele is the type of guy who studies hockey to fight boredom. He finds it interesting, entertaining.

"I've got all my games on my iPad," Scheifele said. "At any given time, I can check it out. If I get bored one day and I'm just sitting on the couch and it's raining outside, I'll throw on a game and just watch for fun, see some things. I love it.

"It's not always a toe drag or a saucer pass. It's little things: a chip, a chip in the neutral zone, a chip behind the net in your own end, a simple pass that you need to make every single time in the offensive zone that maybe you struggle with. Whatever it is, there's parts of the game that need to be refined, and that's something that I try to work on."

Scheifele has increased his goals (13, 15, 29, 32) and points (34, 49, 61, 82) each season in the NHL. He had 82 points in 79 games last season even though he had 15 points on the power play. No one above him in scoring had fewer than 24. No one else in the top 24 in scoring had as few.

"I feel he has the capability to keep growing, and I'm not sure I would say that about every guy," Oates said. "I think he's got the brain power to do it for sure. I think he's got it all. That's who he is."

Why settle for less than the best?

"We've all been the best on our teams growing up," Scheifele said. "We've all been the best players in junior. So we all come here, we all want to be the best in the League. We don't want to be second fiddle to those guys, and that's why we work on our game. That's why we try to innovate the game, to get that edge on Sid, on Connor. That's what I try to do each and every day. I'm not going to stop until I'm there."

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