Barrie Colts coach Dale Hawerchuk is aware of the similarities between himself and his star player, Mark Scheifele. Both have starred for Canada in international competition and were hailed as potential franchise centers after being drafted in the first round by the Winnipeg Jets.
As coach of the Ontario Hockey League club, Hawerchuk, a 2001 Hockey Hall of Fame inductee, has been grooming the star prospect since a 17-year-old Scheifele recorded 75 points in his first junior hockey season.
"He's really taking it to a whole other level," Hawerchuk told NHL.com this week. "You're watching a kid become a man in junior hockey as far as his ability on the ice. He's a pretty dominating player. It's not so much his scoring, it's what he does all over the ice at the pace he does it. He wants to win day in and day out. I don't know anybody who works harder on and off the ice."
Scheifele has been among junior hockey's top performers this season. In leading the Colts to the best record in the OHL Eastern Conference, he ranked fifth in the league in scoring before reporting to training camp for Canada's World Junior Championship squad. But Scheifele hasn't just drawn attention for his scoring statistics. He's also demonstrated great discipline, registering 13 penalty minutes in 29 games.
"He's got the full package," Hawerchuk said. "He's a great team guy, great skill, good size. Day in and day out he's the hardest worker. That's a pretty good package."
What already has been a remarkable season for the 6-foot-3 forward likely will get more intense during the holidays. The 19-year-old is expected to play a prominent role for Canada at the 2013 WJC, which runs Dec. 26 to Jan. 5, 2013 in Ufa, Russia. He had six points in six games at last year's WJC, including a goal and an assist in a 4-0 win against Finland to help Canada win the bronze medal.
Whether Scheifele plays center or right wing for Canada remains to be seen. During an intrasquad game at training camp, he shifted to the wing to play alongside Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jonathan Huberdeau.
"As the game went on, we definitely started to find some chemistry," Nugent-Hopkins said following the scrimmage. "The three of us didn't get too much of a chance to play together, but when we did I felt pretty good out there."
Some junior coaches might fear the potential of their star player sustaining an injury during the WJC, but Hawerchuk said he is looking forward to seeing Scheifele try to lead Canada to its first WJC title since 2009.
"These players go to these events and they come back better players," said Hawerchuk, who tied for the scoring lead with nine points in five games for Canada at the 1981 WJC. "When you're playing with the best against the best, you're only going to get better. You can't control what happens injury-wise. Usually they're a little fatigued after that, but they definitely become better players in the long run."
Any conversation with Hawerchuk about Scheifele inevitably comes back to the Jets. Hawerchuk starred for nine seasons in Winnipeg, and his 929 points remain the most in franchise history. But the Colts' coach is done talking to his star player about what to expect from the hockey-mad city.
As an 18-year-old, Scheifele started last season with Winnipeg, scoring one goal in seven games before being returned to Barrie. Despite averaging barely more than 10 minutes of ice time per game in the NHL, Scheifele was able to capture the imagination of Jets fans.
"He's had a taste of it. He knows what it's going to take to be there," Hawerchuk said. "We talked about it before, but he's been there. He knows what it's all about. He knows it's a hockey-crazy place and a great opportunity for him."
Author: Tal Pinchevsky | NHL.com Staff Writer
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