Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler is red hot. In the past week, Wheeler has racked up three multi-point games – including a five-point outburst against the Nashville Predators on Feb. 12.
No surprise, when Wheeler factors on the scoresheet, the Jets win. He has 11 points in the team’s last three victories.
It’s been a strange season for the 12-year NHL veteran. To say Wheeler started the season slowly would be an understatement. He didn’t score a goal until his 22nd game. And Wheeler has found the back of the net only four times since.
But the lack of goal production hasn’t hampered Wheeler’s elite playmaking ability. He has 27 assists in 34 games. And his offensive output so far this season – just under a point per game – is right in line with his career average. Over 1,015 NHL games, Wheeler has 839 points.
I think Wheeler has incredible vision and he’s one of the best passers in hockey. And with that big frame – Wheeler is listed at 6’5” 225 lb – he can be an absolute handful on the forecheck when he gets moving.
Not many players with Wheeler’s size have the speed to match. It allows him to drive defenders back and create space for his linemates entering the offensive zone with the puck.
Take these clips from Feb. 12 when the Jets beat the Nashville Predators 5-2 in Bridgestone Arena. Wheeler scored once and added four assists.
It is a diverse collection of highlights – something that is emblematic of Wheeler’s game. Driving the net. Finding passing lanes. Using his speed. Going to the front of the net. It looks simple but all those details add up to create good habits.
But as strong as Wheeler has played recently, there remains room for criticism. The Jets captain has yet to find the level of consistency this season that’s previously been a hallmark of his game.
Aside from a stretch in December where he posted 10 points in five games, Wheeler’s year has been somewhat hit or miss. He began the season by finding the scoresheet in only nine of the Jets first 20 games.
Lately his production has improved. But compared to last year when Wheeler finished off the regular season by tallying at least one point in 14 of the Jets last 20 games, it’s a noticeable difference.
A lot of that can be attributed to his team’s overall play. Winnipeg simply hasn’t been as good as many of us expected. Before the season began, I picked the Jets to win the Stanley Cup.
It’s been frustrating to watch at times. The Jets have not been terrible this season. They have consistently hovered a few points out of a Wild Card spot in the NHL’s tightly contested Western Conference. But the team’s 4-1-1 record since the NHL All-Star break has boosted morale and given hope that a berth in the Stanley Cup playoffs might be attainable.
Winnipeg is going to need the best version of Blake Wheeler down the stretch. And to me, that’s when he is shooting the puck. Here’s what that looks like:
The Jets captain had nine shot attempts in this game against the Vancouver Canucks back on Dec. 10. He registered a goal and two assists.
That is his recipe for success. Wheeler has a point in every game that he put five or more shots on goal this season. It is happened five times. And in those games, he has four goals and eight assists.
Wheeler shoots the puck well and isn’t afraid to go to the front of the net. But he is always had a playmaker’s mindset of trying to find a passing lane first.
Jets linemate Mark Scheifele has 17 goals so far this season. Wheeler has assisted on eight of them. Opposing teams know he’s looking for that pass. Secrets don’t exist in today’s world of pre-scouting and video analysis.
That is where I believe Wheeler can be more aggressive with his shot. Sometimes players need to take advantage of what the other team gives them. It is not selfish. It’s good business. The Jets are a better team when Wheeler is getting pucks to the net.
Making the playoffs would not be easy for Winnipeg. The Central Division is deep and the wild card race is tight in the West.
But I am not ready to count Jets out just yet. They have the skill. They need consistency. And they need their captain to keep leading the way.
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