Before interim coach Paul Maurice arrived on the scene to steer the Winnipeg Jets to four victories in five games, rookie forward Mark Scheifele already had begun to nudge himself into the Calder Trophy picture.
Yes, Nathan MacKinnon has been rock solid for the Colorado Avalanche, lately. It's also been hard to ignore the fact that Boston Bruins defenceman Torey Krug has scored an incredible 11 goals, picking up where he left off in the playoffs last spring.
Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat have helped the cause down in Tampa Bay as the Lightning has motored on without star sniper Steven Stamkos. Jets defenceman Jacob Trouba also deserves a mention because of his recent play. He leads all rookies in ice time at 21 minutes, 29 seconds per game.
Maybe if Tomas Hertl did not suffer his right knee injury last month, he still would be the man.
But in the past seven weeks, Scheifele has led the way when it comes to this season's NHL freshman class. Nobody has produced more points than the Jets centre in the past 22 games.
Scheifele was a huge point producer in junior. He scored an impressive 39 goals and 79 points in 45 regular-season games for the Barrie Colts last year, and his production did not drop off when it mattered.
In six games for Canada at the world juniors, Scheifele scored five times in six games playing the wing. In the Colts' run to the OHL final, he scored 15 goals and 41 points in 21 games.
But the points did not come easy early on in Scheifele's first full NHL season. There was a reason, however. Outgoing coach Claude Noel stressed to his rookie to make sure his focus was on his defence and to make sure he continued to improve his work in the face-off circle.
"The big thing for me heading into this season is Claude wanted me to be reliable defensively and a good face-off man," said Scheifele, who had a four-game point streak snapped in a 1-0 loss to the Sharks in San Jose on Thursday.
"The points maybe didn't come as much as you would have liked earlier, but the chances were there. I just wasn't capitalizing on my chances. The big difference now has been I've been capitalizing on those chances."
Picking up the pace
In his first 30 games this season, Scheifele had scored only two goals and nine points, but as mentioned he has picked up the pace. His ice time has increased, but he still has been an inconsistent performer in the face-off circle.
He's had good games recently, like his 14 wins in 20 draws at home against the Phoenix Coyotes on Jan. 13, but poor outings like his 3-for-15 evening against the Sharks on Thursday, in which he was 0-for-5 in Jets end of the rink.
But the signs are there that Jets made the right call in their surprise selection of Scheifele at seventh overall at the 2011 NHL entry draft. The pick was on the advice of the Colts head coach and former Jets star Dale Hawerchuk, a key person in Scheifele's development.
"He was unbelievable for my career," said Scheifele, whose Jets are at home to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 6:30 p.m. ET). "He's a good teacher and a good leader. He's a Hockey Hall of Famer and you couldn't ask for a better person to pass on his knowledge.
"There is no doubt in my mind he's going to make a great coach in the NHL when he wants to make the move."
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