Wheeler packing a punch
Jets forward playing with more bite
KIRK PENTON, QMI Agency
|Jets forward Blake Wheeler fires a shot during the warmup prior to playing against the Coyotes at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Man., Dec. 01, 2011. (BRIAN DONOGH/QMI Agency)
WINNIPEG - Blake Wheeler has never had a massive passion for pro hockey teams in Minnesota.
The Jets right-winger was too young when the North Stars left, and he was too old when the Wild came back to really have a love for them deep in his heart.
The NFL’s Vikings on the other hand? Well, that’s a different story.
In fact, he probably risked his personal safety when he decided to play for the United States Hockey League’s Green Bay Gamblers during his senior year of high school. He even went to a playoff game between the Vikings and Packers.
“It was an experience,” Wheeler said Monday. “At that point in time, both teams were really good. The Vikings actually knocked them out of the playoffs that year and I was at the game, so that was one of the better moments I’ve had. That was awesome.
“I was at the 50-yard line watching the Packers get killed at home by the Vikings in the playoffs. That was once in a lifetime.”
If Wheeler didn’t have a problem strolling into Lambeau Field as a Vikings fan at playoff time, he shouldn’t be scared of anything. Over the last 10 games for the Jets, the right-winger has shown that to be true.
When he signed a two-year deal with the Jets during the summer, he said his mission was to become a true power forward and use his 6-foot-5 frame to its full potential. He didn’t do that for the first month and a half this season, but over the last few weeks he has added the power to his game, driving hard to the net and packing a little more punch.
And it’s not a stretch to say Wheeler’s improvement is one of the reasons why the Jets have turned it around lately as well, going 8-3-1 in their last 12 games. In addition, the top line of Wheeler, Evander Kane and Bryan Little was formed on Nov. 19, and the trio has accounted for 17 of Winnipeg’s 30 goals since then.
“I’ve put more of an emphasis on being physical and finishing checks,” Wheeler said. “When you do those little things it just seems to all come together. You seem to create more turnovers, you seem to be in the right spots a lot more.
“That’s a big thing for our line. Kaner, he’s a physical guy and if I can be physical on the other side, too, it’s just going to create more havoc and create more turnovers for us, because when we get the puck we can make plays.”
Wheeler had only seven points in his first 18 games, but he has 12 in his last 11 outings. Head coach Claude Noel said that’s probably because he has more “bite” in his game.
“He’s just more confrontational, if that’s the right word, more into the physicality of stuff,” Noel said. “Because when I watched him before he was OK, but you wanted more physicality and he’s doing that.
“He’s not going to be a crusher all the time, but he’s playing with more bite and that’s good. I liked him the last 10 games.”