People forget that Blake Wheeler is yet another prime example of excellent GMing by Peter Chiarelli in Boston. But y’know, Rich Peverly was a faithful soldier and all that. But that’s not why you called.
You have to feel a little for Wheeler. If he stuck in Boston, or played in New York or Chicago or Toronto or Montreal, people would realize he might be the premier power forward in the league. Not only is he stuck in Winnipeg where he’ll never be fully appreciated or get to play in the games he deserves, he’s going to freeze his ass off. While this Jets team looks a little more promising than previous editions, no one’s going to be mentioning them as possible West representatives in June.
To fully appreciate Wheeler, one should probably take a look at his WOWYs for just this season (teammates stats when on the ice with him and without).
Wheeler has skated mostly with Mark Scheifele this season. Together they simply skull the competition at a 56.8 CF%, but aren’t getting any help from their goaltending with just a 30% goals-for percentage. When Scheifele hasn’t been out there with Wheeler, he’s rocking a 43.8 CF%. Wheeler’s actually goes up to 60.1%. It goes down the line like that. Byfuglien is 60.8% with Wheeler and 46.3 without. Ehlers is 66.3, and 47.9 without. Laine is 51.8 with and 42.4 without.
In case you think it’s a matter of sample size, last season Wheeler’s most common linemate with Bryan Little, and he went from a 56.4 with Wheeler to a 42.7 without. Andrew Ladd from a 56.4 to a 47.4. And you saw what Andrew Ladd looked like without him, in case you needed visual evidence.
Looking at Wheeler just individually, his peripherals are once again off the charts. So far this season he’s carrying a possession rate +10.9% higher than the rest of the Jets. While Laine and Sheifele steal the headlines, it’s Wheeler’s line that is doing the heavy lifting, facing the toughest competition and taking some worse zone starts so that the kids–along with Ehlers–can make all the fireworks. Wheeler’s numbers might be even better if his PDO wasn’t 927, as he and his teammates are shooting just 4.7% when he’s on the ice. He’s also getting a .867 SV% from Hutchinson and Hellebuyck when he’s on the ice, which makes you wonder why he hasn’t broken his stick over their heads yet.
Sadly for Wheeler, it is likely his best years will be for nought. He’s 30 now, and as we know power forwards don’t exactly age well. Wheeler might hold on longer than most but that doesn’t mean forever. And he doesn’t come off as the type that can sort of morph into a more standstill sniper, as say Iginla and James Neal have later in their careers. He’s signed for two more years, and maybe he can pull a Trouba and start bellyaching to get out next summer so the Jets can maximize his trade value. But that’s not really Wheeler’s M.O., and his $5.6M hit might be the biggest bargain in the league. With him and Mathieu Perreault, the Jets have two of the biggest analytic darlings in the league. Here’s a list of some right wings that make more than Wheeler: Ryan Callahan, Dustin Brown, Alex Radulov, Kyle Okposo, Loui Eriksson, Jordan Eberle, Bobby Ryan, Vlad Tarasenko, Phil Kessel, Jakub Voracek, Corey Perry, Patrick Kane. On that list, how many would you take over him? Three? Throw in the value and that number might shrink.
With Laine’s emergence, and Sheifele’s growth, when Little returns (only to get hurt again soon) the Jets could arguably have the best top six in the division. Maybe if Hellebuyck finally becomes what’s been promised, they can finally make some noise in the West. Certainly it’s time everyone got to see what Blake Wheeler can do and has been doing for quite a while now.