Scheifele talks Jets culture, urgency to win in Q&A with NHL.com

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In NHL.com’s Q&A feature called “Sitting Down with …” we talk to key figures in the game, gaining insight into their lives on and off the ice. In this edition, we feature Winnipeg Jets forward Mark Scheifele.

HENDERSON, Nev. — Mark Scheifele can sense an urgency among the Winnipeg Jets heading into this season.

The Jets, who host the New York Rangers in their regular-season opener Oct. 14, are eager to rebound after failing to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season for the first time since 2016-17 and know the clock is ticking for their core. Scheifele, forward Blake Wheeler, defensemen Brenden Dillon and Dylan DeMelo and goalie Connor Hellebuyck are each two seasons from being eligible to become unrestricted free agents. Forwards Nikolaj Ehlers and Mason Appleton and defensemen Neal Pionk and Nate Schmidt can become unrestricted free agents the following season.

“There’s not a lot of guys that are here for a long time,” Scheifele said. “I think they see it as we have a short window to succeed, and we have a lot of older guys that want to succeed right now, and I think we all have high expectations for ourselves and as a team. I think that’s a good thing.”

After Winnipeg (39-32-11) finished eight points behind the Nashville Predators for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Western Conference last season, its biggest offseason move was hiring coach Rick Bowness to replace Dave Lowry, who took over as interim coach after Paul Maurice resigned Dec. 17. Although the Jets didn’t change much personnel-wise, Scheifele believes they have the potential to bounce back with much of their roster remaining from the team that was 30-23-3 and reached the second round of the playoffs in 2020-21.

“I think we see our team as we have a lot of fantastic players,” Scheifele said. “Obviously, our top six forwards is pretty dynamite. We have a lot of good players. We have a lot of skilled players that can score, we have a great D corps, and we have one of the best goalies in the League. So, we have the pieces and it’s just a matter of getting them set up and mixing them together the proper way.”

NHL.com caught up with Scheifele at the NHL North American Player Media Tour on Sept. 16. The 29-year-old forward, who had 70 points (29 goals, 41 assists) in 67 games last season, discussed the Jets culture, his feelings on how he played last season, his comments after last season about his future and more.

Bowness talked after he was hired about possibly needing to change the culture around the team. Then, the decision was made to remove Wheeler as captain and begin this season without one. Did Bowness ask you about the culture when you met with him?

“He asked me about what the room was like, and I gave him an honest answer that we have a really tight-knit room. We have a bunch of really good guys that love hockey, that want to work on their game and want to get better and we have a really good room, and I think we just kind of were lost last year. We almost were kind of in search of something. With the coach leaving and an interim guy coming in, we were kind of a little bit of a lost group last year. It was [lousy] feeling. It definitely [stunk] and I think we’re all excited with a new start with new coaches, a new voice, new thoughts, new system, new structure, all that stuff.”

Video: Blake Wheeler stripped of Captaincy

How would you assess your play individually last season?

“It was just kind of a roller coaster. There would be spurts where I really liked my game and there would be spurts where I really didn’t like my game. It’s one of those things that it was a constant search to try to feel it out, you know? It was a lot more time on the ice trying to figure out things in my own game and how I was feeling. I kind of started out with COVID early in the year and missed 14 days on the ice, which I don’t think anyone really understands how hard it is to be off the ice for 14 days for a hockey player. I don’t take 14 days off even in the summer. … So, it just kind of was one of those years that adversity kept hitting. There was something, then another thing, then another thing. That’s why I’m really excited about this fresh start with new coaches and a bunch of new things.”

At the Manitoba Open golf tournament in August, you clarified your comments at the end of last season questioning whether you’d remain with the Jets and made it clear that you didn’t want to leave. Was that something that weighed on you this summer?

“Not really. That stuff, you can’t give too much time on because it’s not your job. Your job is to play hockey, so I just focused on working on my game, working in the gym, doing all the stuff I could do to become a better hockey player and whatever happens, happens.”

You’ve been with the Jets since the restart of the franchise in Winnipeg in 2011. At this point, do you consider yourself part of the fabric there?

“Yeah. To think I’ve been here for 11 years is pretty crazy too. I still look at myself as a young guy and I’m one of the older guys on the team. It’s kind of wild to think about, but I know nothing but the Winnipeg Jets. That’s all I know. I eat, sleep, and breathe Winnipeg Jets and that’s why I care so much. That’s why my comments at the end of the year kind of got misconstrued. 

“All I was trying to say is that I care, and I want to win. I want this organization to win. I want my voice to [be] heard about how much I care about this organization, how much I care about this team, how much I care about the guys in the room and all I want to do is win. I want there to be a plan and for all of us to know what’s going on and to have a winning culture and to bring a Stanley Cup to the Winnipeg community.”

You made some changes to your offseason training this offseason. What was the reasoning behind that and what did you do differently?

“I changed trainers. I started working with (Brian Galivan) in Plymouth (Michigan) at the (USA Hockey) program there. (Detroit Red Wings forward and former Jets teammate) Andrew Copp, he’s probably my best friend. I lived with him for a number of years in Winnipeg. He started working with him last summer and I really liked the stuff he was doing and the workouts he was doing and all the workouts and stuff like that. So, I called them up and talked to them and got their take and kind of gave them my take and we really formed a great relationship, and I spent a good amount of time in Michigan this summer.

“A pretty good skate there: the Hughes brothers (Jack of the New Jersey Devils and Quinn of the Vancouver Canucks), (Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Zach) Werenski, (Montreal Canadiens forward Cole) Caufield, (Anaheim Ducks forward Trevor) Zegras was there a bunch. (Detroit Red Wings forward Dylan) Larkin was there. (Jets forward) Kyle Connor was there. ‘Dubi’ (Jets forward Pierre-Luc Dubois) was there at the end of the summer. Just a fantastic skate. A lot of skilled players. A lot of young guys that have a lot of skill and are fast. So, I really enjoyed my time there and I had a great summer with them.”

How do you think that’s going to benefit you?

“Kind of since COVID hit, I was in limbo. You weren’t able to able to go to gyms and then you were able to go to gyms and you had a program, and you didn’t have a program. I was kind of like half working with a guy, half doing my own thing and not having all the proper equipment. It made it tough. So, it was nice to have a plan this summer. What I was trying to accomplish was set in stone. What things I needed to improve on. Where I already had a good base, how I could improve. It was nice to have that plan and have a good four months of training. That was a really exciting thing.”

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