WINNIPEG — The news that Mark Scheifele will miss six to eight weeks was a hard blow to the top-line centre and his Winnipeg Jets teammates.
Head coach Paul Maurice announced after Thursday’s practice that Scheifele is out with an undisclosed upper-body injury he suffered in Winnipeg’s 4-3 victory over Edmonton Wednesday.
“It’s going to be a real, real difficult thing for him to go through, and it’s the mental part of it,” Maurice said when asked how Scheifele was doing.
“I know he will be back the day that human body is ready to be back because his diet’s going to be perfect, his off-ice training’s going to be perfect and he comes into the injury as a very, very fit man. So he gives himself the best chance, but it’s going to be tough for him. He’s going to have a real difficult time with it.”
How difficult it will be for his teammates to fill the hole he leaves behind remains to be seen.
Scheifele, 24, had assisted on linemate Kyle Connor’s goal early in the second period against the Oilers, but took a hit by Edmonton Brandon Davidson and went sliding hard into the boards at 7:37. As the Bell MTS Place crowd grew quiet, Scheifele stayed down in obvious pain and then left on his own to the dressing room, appearing to favour his right shoulder or arm.
“From what we saw (Wednesday) night it didn’t look good, it didn’t sound good,” veteran centre Bryan Little said. “But I think it could have been worse, from what they were saying.
“Hopefully, he heals quickly and is back pretty soon. It’s never something easy to see, one of your best players on the ice like that.”
The assist gave Scheifele 38 points in 38 games, four points behind leading linemate and captain Blake Wheeler. Scheifele also averages 20:58 of ice time, sixth among NHL forwards.
“It’s a huge hole. (He’s) one of the best in the game and a huge part of what we do,” Wheeler said of the alternate captain.
The Jets (21-11-6), who host the New York Islanders (20-13-4) Friday, are already without injured veteran defencemen Dustin Byfuglien and Toby Enstrom.
The ripple effect from Scheifele going on the injured-reserve list had Maurice juggling three of his four lines at practice.
Wheeler had moved to Scheifele’s spot after the injury and was still there during practice, with regular linemate Connor on the left wing and Patrik Laine moving up from the second line.
Wheeler played centre for two seasons at the University of Minnesota and came into the NHL in 2008 with Boston in the same position. He also replaced an injured Scheifele for a couple games last season.
“It’s unfortunate to see your teammate go down like that,” Laine said. “He’s one of our key players on the team so it’s not good for us.
“But now all the other guys have to much improve their game. Now I get a good chance with that line and hopefully I can do things with Blake and Kyle and hopefully we can get a good game (Friday).”
Mathieu Perreault was bumped up to the second line from the fourth to play with Little and Nikolaj Ehlers. Either Shawn Matthias or Marko Dano will fill the fourth-line spot. Both have been healthy scratches.
“We’re more built for things like this now than we used to be,” Little said of the team’s depth and talent.
“What we start with (Friday) might not be what we finish the game with and there might be different combinations you see while he’s out. I think we have the guys that can step up and play in those different positions and roles.”
That’s also what the captain is counting on.
“It’s going to be one of those things that it may not look as pretty,” Wheeler said. “We may not be quite as dangerous as we’re used to being, but there’s still a lot of fight in our group. There’s still a lot of capable bodies in here to get a job done.
“That’s the key for us. We want to keep this thing afloat so that when Mark comes back we’ll be even stronger for it.”