Resurgence of Blake Wheeler timely for New York Rangers
After a slow start this season, it appears that Blake Wheeler is beginning to find his game for the New York Rangers. The resurgence comes at a great time for the Blueshirts, who have been searching for some help on the right wing, especially after losing Kaapo Kakko to injury.
There was certainly an adjustment period for the 37-year-old forward. Up until this season, he had been with the Winnipeg Jets since the 2010-2011 season, back when they were the Atlanta Thrashers. Staying in one place for so long can make adjusting to a new team much more difficult.
Blake Wheeler gets going for Rangers
Coming to New York, Wheeler had to uproot his family, learn a new system, new teammates, new city, and create new routines. This can be a very difficult process for athletes, many of whom can be superstitious in the way they prepare for games.
“It’s been a lot of new stuff thrown my way,” Wheeler mentioned. “Being in the same place for so long, the expectation, the role, and who you’re playing with (changes). To start fresh, playing in a different role, I’m just trying to find my way to make a contribution.”
An adjustment period was expected for Wheeler, but it seemed to have lasted longer than we all imagined. The veteran forward did not record a single point in the month of October, and questions began to arise about whether bringing Wheeler in was the right move or not. Finally, on November 9th, in a 4-1 win, Wheeler notched his first goal as a Ranger and began to look more comfortable.
Still, scoring was slow. He would only register one more goal in November and log four assists. Up until the injury to Kakko, Wheeler had been swapping between the 1st and 3rd line right wing position. Since Kakko’s injury, Wheeler has been a mainstay on the top line alongside Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider.
While it took some time for this line to really get going, they are now firing on all cylinders. In his last six games, Wheeler now has seven points (3G-4A), and has been skating very well. He looks to be playing with more confidence and finally looks comfortable both within the team’s system and with his line mates.
“I think our line is a bit more connected than maybe we were a little bit earlier,” Wheeler explained. “We’re playing off each other a little bit and playing with confidence. Confidence is there and (I’m) feeling good. It’s obviously fun to contribute to a team like we have going right now.”
Zibanejad and Kreider have been red-hot as well. Zibanejad now finds himself on a seven-game point scoring streak with 13 points (8G-5A) in that time frame. Since overcoming his slow start, he has been one of the highest scoring players in the league. Kreider also has eight points (3G-5A) in his last five games. The Rangers’ first line is finally beginning to look like one, and Blake Wheeler finding his game on the right wing is a big reason why.
It is great to see Blake Wheeler picking up the pace in terms of offensive production. After registering 55 points in 72 games last season, New York was looking for more of the same. While overcoming his slow start proved to be difficult, we may be starting to see the Blake Wheeler who was a lock to notch 50 points so many times throughout his career.
“I’m used to contributing on the score sheet,” said Wheeler. “The role that I have, it’s not quite as necessary, but I still take pride in it and I want to contribute. I want to bring value every day and I think I certainly feel like I’m bringing that every night the last few games.”
While he is only on pace for 33 points this season, Wheeler may be able to up those projections if he can keep up this level of play on the top line. With 935 points in his career, he certainly has the 1,000 point mark on his mind. Should he remain with the Rangers next season, he may be able to get it done in a Blueshirt uniform. It would be the first time a player hit the 1,000 point mark as a Ranger since Martin St. Louis accomplished the feat in 2014.