Mark ScheifeleThe Winnipeg Jets have locked up restricted free agent centre Mark Scheifele for the next eight years. The team announced the contract on Friday, with the long-term deal amounting to $49 million.

The 23-year-old from Kitchener was the first draft selection of the Jets when they moved from Atlanta to Winnipeg in 2011. It took him a while to get going, but he managed 34 points in 63 games in 2013-2014 and has been steadily improving those totals since.

Last season, Scheifele had 61 points in 71 games – including 29 goals and 32 assists. He had seven power play goals and 11 points on the man advantage, plus he was an efficient shooter with a 14.9 shooting percentage from 194 cracks at the target.

“I’m definitely happy with my progression, but I know there’s a long way to go,” said Scheifele. “I’m going to continue to work on that. I know signing this deal realistically does nothing. It’s all what happens on the ice that matters and that’s what I’m going to continue to do…That’s my goal, to be one of the elite players in the league and one of the best players in the league.”

“We’ve been able to watch him, obviously, very closely since he’s been on the NHL side of the Jets,” Winnipeg general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said. “And the commitment level on the ice, the commitment level off the ice, the qualities that he embodies just as a human being and as a person, we were really excited that we were able to get this done today.”

Scheifele is a smart hockey player with great instincts. He can score and pass with proficiency and can slip into a two-way role easily. There are some issues with strength that a little hard training can sort out, but for the most part he should be on his way to a tremendous career.

Scheifele’s excited to be a member of the Jets, of course, but it’s the opportunity to play with defenceman Dustin Byfuglien that really cemented this deal.

“He’s one of the best defencemen in the league,” Scheifele said. “To have that guy shooting pucks, possibly giving him pucks to shoot…it definitely gets you very excited. And having him on the back end too. He’s a very good protector. I know one time in L.A., I hit [Los Angeles Kings forward Trevor] Lewis, he came bolting in, and that’s definitely someone you want on your team.”

The Jets still have a little work to do this summer, with defenceman Jacob Trouba still negotiating on a new deal. On Thursday, Winnipeg signed Mathieu Perreault to a four-year extension worth $16.5 million.

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