Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Jets All Out Top 25: #7 Blake Wheeler

Blake Wheeler, 25, Right Wing, 6'5, 214 lbs
Last Year's Rating: N/A This Year's Rating: #7 Difference: N/A

Drafted one pick after fellow teammate and Winnipeg Jets captain Andrew Ladd, Blake Wheeler has not been able to mirror the success of his peer and team leader.

Wheeler broke into the NHL in 2008-09 as a rookie with the Boston Bruins after a well documented college and USHL career. He spent three seasons as a Gopher at the University of Minnesota, scoring 96 points (42 goals, 54 assists) in 129 NCAA games. Before college hockey, Wheeler dominated enough at the high school level with Breck School, where he led them to a Class A State Hockey Championship that he decided to play in the USHL with the Green Bay Gamblers in 2004-05, where he collected 47 points (19 goals, 28 assists) in 58 games.

At 6'5, 214 lbs, Wheeler was selected fifth overall in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft by the Phoenix Coyotes. He had a large bill to fill since he was selected behind the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, and Ladd.

After college hockey, Wheeler opted to not sign with the Coyotes and became an unrestricted free agent and signed an entry-level deal with the Boston Bruins.

In his rookie season, Wheeler scored 45 points (21 goals, 24 assists) in 81 games along with 46 penalty minutes and an amazing plus 36 rating, unheard of for an NHL rookie.

In 2009-10, Wheeler's production declined as he only collected 38 points (18 goals, 20 assists) in 82 games, with a minus four rating and 53 penalty minutes. He chipped in with six points in 13 playoff games as the Bruins were upset in the second round after leading 3-0 to the Philadelphia Flyers.

With the likes of Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand, and the arrival of Nathan Horton to the Bruins, Wheeler's situation in Boston was not as set in stone as it was in his rookie season.

After 58 games with the Bruins in 2010-11 and only 27 points (11 goals, 16 assists) , Wheeler and teammate defenseman Mark Stuart were traded to the Atlanta Thrashers for Rich Peverley.

In Atlanta, Wheeler thrived and found a new place without the pressure of an original six city and managed to score 17 points (seven goals, ten assists) in his final 23 games with Atlanta.

In 244 NHL games, Wheeler has 127 points (57 goals, 70 assists) to go along with 21 NHL playoff games and six points (one goal, five assists).

His six and skill is what attracted ex-Thrahsers GM Rick Dudley into acquiring him from the Bruins last spring at the trade deadline. Though not around anymore, Dudley's vision was a great move for the team. Wheeler is still young, still has amazing talent and potential to discover.

Now, in Winnipeg, Wheeler, a Robbinsdale, Minnesota native, will be able to be close to home. With a freshly minted two-year, $5.1 million contract under his belt, Wheeler is ready to play the kind of game that is worthy of the millions he is making in Winnipeg.

It's a new city and a fresh start for Blake Wheeler with the Jets.

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