Blake Wheeler didn’t start the year on the right foot with Winnipeg Jets fans. He didn’t light the lamp until November 17th in a 4-1 win against the Capitals. His start worried me quite a bit considering they brought Wheeler in last year to be on our top line. He showed little chemistry in the early stages of the season with Bryan Little and Andrew Ladd on the top line, and quite frankly, it looked as through he struggled to find chemistry with anyone. As of late, Wheeler and Little are getting things done by combing for 11 points in the two games against Boston and Colorado. Wheeler’s four-point performance against the Avs earned him second star in the NHL this past week. Wheeler now leads the team with 46 points.
Wheeler is a young stud in this league – there is no doubt about that. He was drafted in 2004 by the Phoenix Coyotes. And if you can recall, none other than Wayne Gretzky was the one who selected him fifth overall that season. That is pretty high praise considering some big talent was picked that year. Johan Franzen, Mike Green, and Pekka Rinne were all selected well after Wheeler. Wheeler declined the opportunity to play in the NHL with the ‘Yotes, and instead opted to play in his hometown for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers. Wheeler had a good collegiate career compiling 96-points over 127 career regular season games.
He signed as a free agent with the Boston Bruins on July 1st, 2008. He signed an entry-level deal which turned out to be quite a steal for the Bruins when he notched 45 points and was a plus 36 in his first season. Not too shabby if you ask me. Wheelers highest season totals came in the 2009-2010 season when he had 53 points, and it looks like he will easily eclipse that number this season.
Wheeler’s size is the key to his success. The way he streaks down the wing and fends off defenders with his strong legs is unreal. Oh, and being 6′ 5” helps too. He has proven that he can play with the best of them in the NHL. He has meshed well with Little – which is obvious. And captain Ladd is not be forgotten here. I see Ladd as the glue that holds this top line together, he is a stable centre, he distributes the puck well, and when he wants to, he can score goals. He has won two Stanley Cups, and regardless that he played a lesser role on those teams, he still knows what it takes to get the job done.
One play that stands out to me is in the game against the Minnesota Wild on Feb 16th. Wheeler skated with a defender on his back all the way up the right side, down into the zone, around the net and then out into the left circle. He finds Evander Kane right on the money for the first goal of the game. That play was crazy. He had so much vision and determination on that play. That was a prime example of the kind of player that Wheeler is, a hard-working winger that makes things happen.
With the Jets being in playoff push mode, every game counts. Wheeler has been doing his part as of late notching eight points over a three game stretch. He has been our best player in my opinion. I was lucky enough to attend the game this past Friday against the Bruins and Wheeler looked stellar out there. Maybe when he plays Boston he steps up his game, just to spite the Bruins for trading him away. But to tell you the truth, that sounds silly. They took a chance on him, and he performed, so why would he do that? I don’t think Wheeler is that type of guy. I have briefly been in the same room as Wheeler, and just overhearing him, he sounds like a stand up guy.
Wheeler’s contract expires at the end of next season, where he is set to become a restricted free agent. If I’m Kevin Cheveldayoff, then I’m talking to Blake this summer to get an extension in place. Because if he continues to show that he is top six forward, then we are going to have teams in the NHL knocking at our door. He is a young player who makes things happen on the ice. Who wouldn’t want Wheeler on their team? I could see a 5-6 year deal, and as for his per-year salary, I wouldn’t hesitate to drop $3.5-$4.5 million a year on him.
I will be the first to admit that I was not a big believer in Wheeler. I knew he had some talent but I wasn’t sure if it would translate into anything. Keep your fingers crossed and hope that Wheeler continues to dominate, as the Jets make their playoff push.