Jets leading scorer has high hopes for improvement

Blake Wheeler (left) led the Winnipeg Jets with 64 points. (BRIAN DONOGH/QMI AGENCY)

Blake Wheeler (left) led the Winnipeg Jets with 64 points. (BRIAN DONOGH/QMI AGENCY)

Ken Wiebe, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 8:17 PM ET

While Blake Wheeler sees the progress in his game, he also realizes there’s plenty of room for further growth.

After completing a season in which he led the Winnipeg Jets with 64 points, Wheeler is optimistic about the future and motivated to take another step in terms of his development.

“It was a great year to kind of elevate my game to a level I knew I could play at,” said Wheeler, who established himself as a frontline forward this season after being given more ice time and responsibility. “The biggest thing for me is that I’m not going to have those doubts about whether or not I can be the player I could be. I’ll be going into the off-season with a lot of confidence and a lot of excitement knowing I’ve got more in me and I can be even more of a factor.

“I would say I’m pleased with the step I took, but I’m not content.”

Despite his increased productivity, Wheeler endured two lengthy slumps this season, going 18 games before scoring his first goal of the campaign and finishing the final 13 without a goal.

But he still managed to pump in 17, just four goals shy of the career high he established as a rookie with the Bruins in 2008-09.

It’s reasonable to think Wheeler should be at 20-plus next season and one-day might top 30 as well.

Wheeler was basically a point-per-game player during the final 62 games, recording 57 points during the span after putting up just seven assists in the first 18 contests.

Could the Robbinsdale, Minn., product jump close to 80 points next season?

“For 60 games I really was a point-a-game player and that’s what I want to be,” said Wheeler. “There’s no reason why I shouldn’t be. That all comes with confidence. I know I’ve put myself in that position and like I said, I truly believe I have more to give and more to accomplish next year.”

Going into the season, Wheeler talked about working hard to become more of a power forward.

Although he’s not going to be known as a bone-crushing hitter, there were plenty of stretches where he took the body and he’s also a powerful skater that can put his shoulder down and blow around opposing defenders to create scoring chances — something he did with great frequency.

“That’s the biggest reason the production picked up, taking the puck to the net,” said Wheeler. “That’s my biggest asset. When I’m skating, that’s when I’m the most dangerous.”

Since Wheeler’s arrival in a trade with the Boston Bruins last February, captain Andrew Ladd has played regularly on a line with him and Bryan Little and witnessed the growth firsthand.

“His head has gotten a lot bigger,” joked Ladd, before getting serious.

“To me, it seems like he wants the puck all the time. I think he figured out how fast and how powerful he is. He’s been great to play with. He backs the D off so much and he’s always a threat to go wide, but he can stop up and make plays, just make this happen. He does a lot of things really well.

“You’ve seen that hunger in his game and that’s the most intriguing, he wants to be the best player on the ice. When you have that attitude, that’s what propels you to the next level.”

More than just improving his game, Wheeler has another goal at the forefront of his thoughts.

“Hopefully I can be a player that helps this team get over the hump next year,” said Wheeler.

 


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