There’s no better way to wrap up our Pilot’s Logbook series than to look at the heart and soul of the team, Blake Wheeler. A leader in the room and on the ice, Wheeler has excelled over the past few seasons as he’s averaged more than a point per game over the last two years. Even though the playoff run didn’t end like Wheeler had hoped, his competitive spirit will hopefully guide the team back into cup contention next season. Let’s finish the series by looking at the captain.
26 – Right Wing
6’5″ / 225 lbs / Age: 32
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Blake Wheeler’s importance to the team is reflected in his contract. Currently the highest paid player, Wheeler’s contract has an AAV of $8.25 million. He signed the five year deal at the beginning of last season and it runs until the end of the 2023-24 season. Wheeler has a full no-move clause until 2022-23 where it becomes a modified no-trade clause and Wheeler can submit a five team trade list.
Player’s Season in Review
It was another extremely productive offensive season for Wheeler who tied his career high with 91 points and beat his previous career high in assists with 71. This marks the second straight season that Wheeler has averaged more than a point per game. Even though Wheeler is known for his passing ability, he still managed to score 20 goals for the seventh straight season (lockout season pro-rated).
Wheeler’s ability to score is important because it makes him infinitely more dangerous. While some playmakers pass up opportunities to shoot for themselves, Wheeler had 231 shots this season, which was second on the team behind Laine. Not being afraid to shoot helps open up the passing lanes for and gives him even more space to slip the puck to a teammate.
While Wheeler’s boxscore stats are phenomenal, things start to veer off track when looking at the advanced stats. In terms of shot attempts, this was the first time since joining the organization that Wheeler finished with a CF% below 50%. He finished near the middle of the team in terms of xGoals% with 47.4%. Like usual, the scoring chances follow suit with the team only getting 47.84% of the chances with Wheeler on the ice.
The interesting part about the top line is that they didn’t need to out-shoot the opposition to score points. Because Wheeler and Scheifele are so skilled, they can out-score most other lines despite garnering fewer chances.
The one issue that started to repeat itself was the poor defensive play of the top line.
As you can see, the Jets gave up far too many chances from the most dangerous areas with Wheeler on the ice. This coincides with the eye-test as well because there were plenty of games where the top line struggled in their own end. Both Scheifele and Wheeler would try to leave the zone early in the hopes of getting a scoring chance the other way.
This lazy style was likely due to the increased minutes that Wheeler saw this season. Even though Wheeler is in phenomenal shape, playing 20:43 per game takes it’s toll as the season progresses. There were many times that Wheeler appeared to just be tired, even causing some people to speculate whether or not he was playing through an injury.
One of the reasons for the big minutes is Wheeler’s heavy usage on the powerplay. Wheeler excels from his ‘office’ at the right faceoff dot where he can feed passes to one of Scheifele, Byfuglien, or Laine. If nothing materializes, he can try to shoot the puck himself or slide it over to Connor for a backdoor pass. Watching Wheeler on the powerplay makes it clear that this is where he really shines as an offensive threat. Check out how dangerous the shot map is with Wheeler on the powerplay.
As you can see, the Jets get far more chances from Laine’s spot on the left, Scheifele’s spot in the middle, and Byfuglien’s spot up top than the average team.
Another unique part of Wheeler’s season was his exclusive usage with Scheifele as his centermen. These two players were attached at the hip every single game despite the team struggling throughout the season. Although it’s not Wheeler’s fault, this was a major point of contention among that fans as many people thought Scheifele and Wheeler could be used to anchor their own lines and spread out the Jets attack more evenly.
What We Said A Year Ago
“You can make an argument for Connor Hellebuyck, but the true most valuable player for the Winnipeg Jets this season was Blake Wheeler. When Mark Scheifele went down with injury in late December, many thought that the Jets were in for a rough stretch of games without their number one center, but it was Wheeler who took on the task of playing center between Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor and the team hardly missed a beat…”
It seems that Wheeler is getting better with age. While most players begin to decline after age 30, Wheeler has been smashing personal bests. One of the most promising things about Wheeler is his durability as he’s only missed four games in the last seven years combined. Staying healthy will be extremely important for Wheeler who relies on his speed and strong frame to win battles all over the ice. Looking into the future, next year will likely be similar to last year with Wheeler playing big minutes with Scheifele and running one of the league’s deadliest powerplays from his spot in the faceoff dot.