Winnipeg Jets center Mark Scheifele celebrates his first of two second period goals during an NHL hockey game against the Buffalo Sabres in Buffalo, N.Y., Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013. He's come on strong offensively since late November but Winnipeg Jets rookie Mark Scheifele says one thing he'd like to improve is his defensive game. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Gary Wiepert
WINNIPEG - He's come on strong offensively since late November and Winnipeg Jets rookie Mark Scheifele says it's been by focusing on "the simple things."
That may sound a little ironic to some, since it looked like the failure of many of his teammates to do just that contributed to Claude Noel's departure as head coach on Sunday.
But for the young centre, his diligence has paid off and pushed him into fifth spot on the NHL's rookie scoring sheet.
"I stuck to the process and just continued to do the simple things and I think that just contributed and I capitalized when I got the chance," Scheifele said after practice Wednesday.
Success breeds success and team captain Andrew Ladd credits the confidence Sheifele has gained over this, his first real season with the team, for helping him blossom.
"I think you can see that the confidence in his game has definitely taken a huge step," Ladd said. "A lot of times for young guys that's a big thing."
The simple things Sheifele does involve more than just getting the puck to the net. They include making sure the other team doesn't get to his net when he's on the ice.
"I think he's done a good job of trying to take care of his own end first and foremost which is, you know, usually tough for younger guys," says Ladd.
Sheifele, who was born in Kitchener, Ont., is still just 20. He was Winnipeg's first draft pick (seventh overall) after the Atlanta Thrashers moved to the city in 2011.
He came to camp and played a few games at the start of that season and the next with the Jets but the organization decided to leave him in junior to develop.
Develop he did, but the deft scoring touch he displayed with the Barrie Colts or with Canada's junior team seemed to desert him with the Jets when he finally made the jump. He registered only five points (and just one goal) in his first 24 games.
But he stuck it out, worked on his game and it's now paying off as his confidence builds. He has four points in his last five games, 15 in his last 20.
His 24 points overall include only seven goals but when asked what aspect of his game he'd like to see develop more it's the defensive side and the ability to win faceoffs that he picks.
"You have to be a two-way player to play in this game. All the best centremen are unbelievable defenders, (Sidney) Crosby, (Jonathan) Toews."
It's a side of the game Noel certainly tried to focus on with the entire team, but without much visible success.
It will now be up to new coach Paul Maurice to see if he can accomplish more in that regard. He's already picked defence out as a key element for the Jets if they want to succeed.
Maurice only moved behind the bench Monday night and says he doesn't really know enough about Winnipeg's rookies to comment on their strengths or weaknesses. But he notes that it remains one of the youngest teams in the NHL.
The Jets play in Calgary Thursday night and forwards Evander Kane and Devin Setoguchi were not expected to be on the ice. Setoguchi is ill and Kane is still recovering from what Maurice says is a deep cut on his hand.
Meanwhile, Paul Postma returned to practice ice with the Jets on Wednesday after spending three months recovering from a blood clot in his leg but says it could be a week or more before he's cleared to play.
"Another four days before contact and then once I'm able to do contact drills, who knows, maybe a few days after that maybe a week after that, I'm not too sure," he said.
"It kind of depends on the coach's idea."
Postma says doctors still can't say for sure what caused the clot, although it could have started by getting hit with the puck and it might have been aggravated by air travel and dehydration.