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Primed with new contract, Jets’ Scheifele needs to continue his ascension from last season

NHL: Winnipeg Jets at Anaheim Ducks Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Winnipeg Jets got a raw deal after getting ousted from the playoffs by the Anaheim Ducks two season ago, the first time the franchise has made it to the postseason since the organization relocated from Atlanta in 2011. Then last season was a disaster on many levels for the Jets. Missing the playoffs, ending up dead last in the Central Division, and losing Bryan Little for the second half of the season, the Jets struggled through much of the season after expectations were raised and another playoff appearance was supposed to become habitual.

Maybe the star that shone brightest was third year player and 2011 first round pick of the Jets, Mark Scheifele. Scheifele led the team in goals with 29, and was second to Blake Wheeler in total points with 61. Twenty-four of those 61 points came during a stretch from February 19th, (the day after Little went down with a back injury) through March 30th, a span of 20 games, where Scheifele was centering a line between Wheeler and speedy youngster Nikolaj Ehlers.

His 24 points (13 goals, 11 assists) in that 20-game stretch is exactly the same as two of the biggest names in the game in Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby (seven goals, 17 assists) and Joe Thornton of San Jose (six goals, 18 assists). - Winnipeg Free Press

The former 7th overall pick has emerged as a solid possession driver, controlling over 53 percent of the score-adjusted shot attempts on the ice. That kind of number means that he is doing the right things to keep the offense moving in the right direction. And for a player that is just 23 years of age, those numbers will help him add to his point totals as he continues to grow and get smarter as a player.

“Mark is an exceptional individual, he embodies so many of the things that we as an organization want to embody,” said Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff. - SportsNet

But the emergence he had from last year won’t mean a thing if he is unable to repeat this season.

Just as the Jets making the post-season in 2014-15 raised expectations among Winnipeg fans, Scheifele’s performance, and brand spanking new 8-year, $49 million contract will raise expectations for the Kitchener, Ontario native. It’s OK to make big-time money, but he will have to play like a big-time player when he is called upon.

Scheifele isn’t alone as he has Wheeler, Ehlers, Little, Mathieu Perreault, 2016 2nd overall pick Patrik Laine, and Dustin Byfuglien to rely on. But Scheifele can supplant himself as a team leader in the locker room and on the ice. It’s even possible he could work himself to wearing the Captain’s “C” in the future. But it starts now, and those Jets will need to rely on him becoming great if they want to challenge the Central division for another shot in the postseason.