With Scheifele and others, Winnipeg’s future at center is bright

AP
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Last night, it was Connor McDavid.

A few nights before, it was John Tavares.

For Jets center Mark Scheifele — the NHL’s second star of the week — matching up against the opponent’s best is becoming a regular occurrence.

And the 22-year-old has left his coach impressed.

“A guy like John Tavares is going to get some room, he’s going to get loose but to be able to balance your game, to be able to be safe out there,” Paul Maurice said, per the Winnipeg Sun. “The other thing is that there’s a minutes change. The difference between 18 and 22, especially when you’re talking about (minutes) against the best. It’s a different game for him right now and I like what he’s doing with it.”

Scheifele has been forced into a bigger role ever since veteran center Bryan Little was lost for the rest of the season with a fractured vertebrae. Little’s last game was on Feb. 18. In the Jets’ eight games since, Scheifele has eight goals and four assists, including a hat track Saturday versus Montreal.

How good Scheifele can be remains to be seen. He says he wants to be a “first-line center,” the kind that “plays against the best players and can beat the best players,” a.k.a. the kind of center that every Stanley Cup champion seems to have. (And some of them have two.)

Suffice to say, the Jets’ future down the middle looks extremely bright. Beyond Scheifele, there’s also 19-year-old Kyle Connor, currently starring for the University of Michigan. And if Connor ends up on the wing, another young center, 20-year-old Nicolas Petan, leads the Jets’ AHL affiliate in scoring with 31 points in 48 games.

Little, 28, has two years remaining on his contract, providing time for the younger generation to grow into their NHL roles.

Related: McDavid, Eichel headline ultra-talented Team North America