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Winnipeg returns Scheifele to juniors

by Patrick Williams /
WINNIPEG -- Even a re-assignment from the Winnipeg Jets to the Ontario Hockey League could not wipe the smile off Mark Scheifele's face on Sunday.

Winnipeg returned the 18-year-old center to the OHL's Barrie Colts after the 18-year-old center played seven NHL games with the Jets. The Jets selected Scheifele seventh overall in June's NHL Entry Draft, making him the franchise's first drafted player since it relocated to Winnipeg this summer. Scheifele played seven games with the Jets and scored his first NHL goal on Oct. 19 against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Jets did not make Scheifele available to the media Sunday, but Winnipeg general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff spoke during his team's optional practice session.

"I think he took it great," Cheveldayoff said of Scheifele's reaction to the news, adding that he and the personable rookie cracked jokes after speaking. "He is a humble person. He took nothing for granted from the moment that he stepped into the locker room at rookie camp, and that is kind of his mentality. He hasn't changed one bit from the moment that we drafted him in that aspect of things."

Scheifele will return to Barrie, where he led all OHL rookies last season with 53 assists. The Kitchener, Ont., native also notched 22 goals in his 66 games with the Colts. Scheifele also led Team Canada with six goals at the Under-18 World Championships. Hockey Canada invited Scheifele to its National Junior Team Development Camp this past August, and it is expected that he will compete for a spot with Team Canada for this December's Under-20 World Junior Championship.

From the moment that Scheifele earned himself a place on Winnipeg's season-opening roster, Cheveldayoff resisted any notion of placing a timeframe with regard to whether Scheifele would remain with the Jets and took a game-by-game approach.

"He is only 18," Cheveldayoff explained. "We let what is best for his development long-term be the deciding factor. It's a development process. If you really sit back and put it into perspective, he is 18 years old. That is a big feather in his cap to have earned the opportunity to have played the seven games this year."

"We're just ecstatic about the games that he played," Cheveldayoff continued. "He showed that he thinks the game well, is very responsible defensively, which at this stage of his career is a very, very good sign."

Scheifele's ice time had shrunk of late. Scheifele logged only 7:21 of ice time in Saturday night's 5-3 home win over the Carolina Hurricanes, managing only two third-period shifts.

Winnipeg's improving health also made reassigning Scheifele more feasible. Coach Claude Noel had shifted Scheifele out of the center spot on the club's third line after Ben Maxwell returned from injury on Saturday, and the Jets expect to have left wing Kenndal McArdle back from a preseason injury for Monday night's home date with the New York Rangers.

Cheveldayoff spoke with Barrie head coach and former Winnipeg Jets star Dale Hawerchuk and is excited to have Scheifele play a second season under Hawerchuk's tutelage. The Colts are much improved this season after finishing with an OHL-worst 15-49-2-2 record last season. Barrie sits at 6-4-0-1 after 11 games and begins a stretch of three games in four nights on Wednesday night.

"I'm just excited about his opportunities to go Barrie and continue the development process," Cheveldayoff said. "It is going to be a great opportunity for him to go back to junior and play a pivotal role on a team that is much improved. Dale is excited, obviously, about what [Scheifele] has in store for him this year."

"He is going to be an impact player in junior, and with that comes the pressures of leading a team, and the expectations of producing all the time. Those are the kinds of things that when he becomes a National Hockey League player, things like that are going to be his responsibility all the time."

With Scheifele back in juniors, there are now five players remaining in the NHL from the 2011 Draft class, Edmonton's Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Colorado's Gabriel Landeskog, New Jersey's Adam Larsson, Ottawa's Mika Zibanejad and Philadelphia's Sean Couturier.

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