The latter portion of the 2010-11 season saw several dynamic, two-way centreman steadily climb the NHL Central Scouting rankings. While Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
and Ryan Strome have stolen the show up top, other opening round expectations have made their names known through exceptional seasons.
Such is the case for 18-year-old Mark Scheifele, whose rookie campaign saw him score 75 points (including 22 goals) in 66 games with the OHL's Barrie Colts. That scoring output helped him vault from the 21st to the 16th overall ranking by year’s end.
His birthplace and workplace are separated by only a two-hour drive in southern Ontario. As a young boy in Kitchener, his humble welcome to the game provided the inspiration for a promising pro career.
"My dad played hockey growing up, so when me and my brother were young, he taught us how to skate and how to play hockey on frozen ponds," Scheifele recalled.
It was that start that helped him develop into the player he is today. Unlike many of the available prospects, the 6’2", 182-pound pivot has only participated in one OHL season following a successful Jr. B tenure. Although he has less experience than his eligible peers, his only campaign was a successful one from a development standpoint.
"Personally, I thought I had a good year in terms of my development as a hockey player," Scheifele said. "I was able to reach goals that I set, like scoring a point-per-game and making the Top Prospects game."
Although personal highs were gained, his Barrie club completed the 2010-11 season having only won 15 games in 68 attempts; good enough for last place in the OHL's Eastern Conference standings with 34 points.
"We didn't get as many wins as we would have liked, but we always left everything on the ice."
It was an understandable predicament, given that Barrie had lost some important players and was entering a rebuilding stage. The losses were expected, but the compete level was high and helped to provide opportunity for some of the Colts' up-and-coming players.
Making the transition to the high-scoring OHL appeared seamless, with production coming easy despite the challenges of adapting to new linemates, a new team, and a new league.
"I would attribute my success to always working hard; always trying to play my best and to work my hardest every shift and every practice," Scheifele explained. "I would also attribute some of my success to my teammates for always working their hardest and always doing their best, especially Colin Behenna.
"Also, I give credit to the coaches for always pushing me to be better. I had to adapt to the speed of the game because it was much faster than Jr. B, and I had to be smarter and one step ahead of my opponents that had physical advantages on me so I was able to beat them."
The coaches' feedback has been especially valuable, as he looks to apply the lessons to help create a well-rounded game that supports a creative side.
"Always work on the little things, like stick-handling and shooting, but [the coaches] also say I need to work on my skating and overall strength. They also encourage me to always improve on my defensive zone play."
Doing so will help the Kitchener native reach new levels of excellence as he looks to carve an NHL career through an unmatched and unrelenting mode of competitiveness.
"I think my work ethic and willingness to compete, my size -- when I put on some more weight and muscle -- and also my intelligence and vision on the ice will translate to the NHL game.
"I'm a two way centreman who works hard and will do anything to help his team win. I feel that I have good offensive instincts and that I see the ice very well."
His cunning two-way style, in addition to that intelligence and understanding of the game, appropriately mirrors the panache of some of the NHL's best.
"I model my game after Pavel Datsyuk, in terms of being a very good offensive and defensive player. I also model some of my game after Joe Thornton for his playmaking ability and size."
Going into the off-season, a busy summer indeed, the eager teenager looks to continue his development while realizing that life-long dream that he has worked so hard to achieve.
"In the off-season, my goals are to get stronger, bigger, but to also improve on every part of my game. I have always watched the draft and it's always been a dream of mine since I was a little kid. For it to actually be happening to me now makes it the most exciting time in my life."
Author: Ryan Dittrick | edmontonoilers.com