Blake Wheeler returns to Winnipeg with Rangers after storied Jets career
Blake Wheeler’s first game back against his former team will be special in a lot of different ways. For many players, that can usually be for the good, bad, or sometimes both.
On Monday night, when he returns to Winnipeg where he spent 13 seasons, including in two different cities/countries, and which he was captain for six, he could check all those boxes.
“It’s definitely strange,” Wheeler said after the morning skate. “Coming to this room and seeing everything. It’s a bit weird, but being out on the ice feels good. Obviously its a place that – a lot of great memories. It was pretty special to me and my family. Certainly the first game I looked for on the schedule. Looking forward to getting back there.”
Blake Wheeler returns to Winnipeg
Wheeler joined the then-Atlanta Thrashers during 2010-11 season and made the move north with the franchise for the 2011-12 season. He became captain in 2016 and enjoyed a successful run with the Jets with seven-straight 20-goal seasons.
But Wheeler’s captaincy was stripped before the start of last season, which ultimately was his last. Winnipeg bought out the final year of the 37-year-old’s contract this summer, allowing him to sign with the New York Rangers on July 1 for $800,000.
“It’s certainly been an adjustment in every aspect,” he said. “Playing with the same guys for as long as I did. The little routines you get into playing in a place as long as I did. Now starting all over. It’s been a change. It’s been fun.”
Wheeler downplayed his slow start, having gone pointless with 14 shots in his first eight games as a Ranger. He said there are others on the team picking that up, but the offense “will come.”
“The first six games I was not myself. I just think all the newness and acclimating to new circumstances, kind of hitting the ground running. I felt a bit lost out there,” said Wheeler. “But the last week, started to feel really good again and feeling like myself again. For me, I love being out there and feeling like I can play and contribute. We’ve got a heck of a hockey team. It’s just about trying to bring value when we’re on the ice. Making a contribution any way I can.”
Perhaps to get him going, Peter Laviolette reinserted Wheeler on the second power play unit Monday morning. He started the season there but lost his spot to rookie Will Cuylle.
But the Minnesota-native isn’t looking at any beyond tonight. He’ll take in the experience of playing in a place he called home for the prime years of his career against ex-teammates he helped lead to the 2019 Western Conference Final.
“Just enjoying this experience tonight and being back in a familiar place,” he said. “Playing in front of a bunch of people I care a lot about.”