Wheels up! Realistic expectations for Blake Wheeler this season
Blake Wheeler will be suiting up for a new team for the first time in over twelve years when he hits the ice at Madison Square Garden this season. The 37 year-old right wing finished his last season with the Winnipeg Jets tallying 16 goals and 55 points with an additional six points in five playoff games before being eliminated at the hands of the eventual Stanley Cup Winners, the Vegas Golden Knights.
The New York Rangers are no strangers to signing big names in free agency and making a splash. Landing Wheeler at a bargain price of $800K on a one-year deal seemed like the perfect fit to bolster the teams depth at the right wing position.
“I feel fortunate that a player like Wheeler picked up the phone and wanted to come here,” President and GM Chris Drury said.
So what can we expect from Blake Wheeler this season?
Expectations for Blake Wheeler
At the peak of his career, the veteran winger had back to back 91 point seasons in the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 campaigns. Since then, he has yet to play more than 72 games and has hovered around the 50 to 60 point mark per season. Assuming he stays healthy, a 50 point season from Wheeler could be exactly what the Rangers need to compete with the top teams in the league and especially the extremely strong Metropolitan Division.
There’s also an argument to be made saying that Wheeler could have a better season than his recent trends. A change of scenery combined with new elite level teammates and a head coach with a history of success might propel Wheeler to a level that we have not seen for the last several years.
Rangers fans should feel optimistic as the former Jet already feels right at home.
“It feels like I’ve been here a long time. It feels it’s been a lot longer than just a month. I feel at home,” was the message from Wheeler in an interview following the second day of training camp. Oftentimes, players will have a hard time adjusting to a new team, system, and city. For Wheeler however, it seems as though things are off to a great start.
One surprise out of camp to date, are the initial lines. At one point, a trio of Panarin-Chytil-Wheeler were on the ice. Of course, new head coach Peter Laviolette mentioned that these lines are subject to change, but having Wheeler play with two very skilled offensive players in Panarin and Chytil is very enticing. We have all seen Panarin set up just about every player on the team. If Wheeler is on his opposite wing, it could mean more of a scoring role than anticipated.
Regardless of who he plays with, Rangers fans can expect to see the big-bodied veteran right winger get his nose dirty and throw his weight around. Something the Rangers desperately need.
If Wheeler gets some top-six minutes and power play time, it is not out of the question to say that he could flirt with a 60 point season. Although, it’s more important to note the value he can bring to special teams as he’s willing to put in hard work you need for them to be successdul. As you already know, those efforts don’t always get recognized on the scoresheet. Speaking of scoring, it is worth mentioning that his 922 career points and 1,118 games played bring an incredible amount of proven experience to the Rangers’ locker room.
At the end of the day, Wheeler is a veteran player that’s hungry for a Stanley Cup. “There’s a determination, a great way about this room. The core group of these guys are entering the prime of their careers. That in it of itself creates a level of seriousness, knowing that there’s a window. Everyone obviously is chasing the same goal.”
At this stage in his career, it is not about the money, it is about winning.