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Photo Credit: © Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports

Pilot’s Logbook 17-18: Blake Wheeler

Our last installment of our Player’s Logbook review series focuses on the captain of the Winnipeg Jets, Blake Weeler. It was a banner year for Wheels as he tied for the league lead in assists, led his team to it’s second ever playoff appearance since the move to Winnipeg and their first playoff series win in franchise history which earned him a spot on the NHL’s 2nd All-Star team and consideration for both the Mark Messier Leadership and Hart trophies.

BLAKE WHEELER
#26 – RIGHT WING
6’5″ / 225 lbs / Age: 31

Current Contract Status: Signed through 2018-19 ($5,600,000/yr) 

THE NUMBERS

BLAKE WHEELER REG SEASON SCORING
Scor Scor Scor Shot Shot Shot Ice
Season GP G A PTS +/- PIM S S% TSA ATOI FOW FOL FO% HIT BLK TK GV
2017-18 81 23 68 91 13 52 246 9.3 410 20:15 166 196 45.9 94 66 34 55
Career 778 222 383 605 99 512 2055 10.8 3523 18:11 342 467 42.3 958 485 355 344

 

BLAKE WHEELER ADVANCED STATISTICS
Cors Cors Cors Cors Fenw Fenw Fenw Fenw Zone Zone
Season GP TOI CF CA CF% CF% rel FF FA FF% FF% rel oZS% dZS%
2017-18 81 1281.1 1269 1265 50.1 -1.7 982 929 51.4 -0.2 55.1 44.9
Career 778 11311.3 11646 10358 52.9 2.1 8733 7701 53.1 2.3 54.0 46.0

PLAYER’S SEASON IN REVIEW

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 even though it maybe hurt his own goal scoring numbers a bit as he adjusted to a position he hadn’t ever played and adjusted from being a trigger man to being the playmaker. It wasn’t an ideal situation, but Wheeler made the best of it and did pretty well in doing so which helped the Jets avoid a drop off in the standings.

 

The only real knock on Blake is that his effort on the defensive end of the ice needs work. He struggles with defense at the best of times and isn’t exactly a player that can put pressure on opposing players and force turnovers. Likewise, he has been known to give up the puck when trying to exit out of his zone, and in one on one situations on open ice, he has struggled to keep up.

He’s not exactly going to be nominated for a Selke any time soon, but with a player like Mark Scheifele who did in fact get some Selke consideration this past season, that part of Blake’s game can be excused a bit. It would be a different story though if the Jets needed Blake to be better on the defensive end.

Of course a discussion about Wheeler can’t not include the intangibles of leadership and experience he brings as captain. The now infamous image of him putting his arm around a rookie Patrik Laine after a critical own-goal late in the 2016-17 season gave us a window into the type of support he provides his teammates. His move to the center position shouldn’t be understated as a prime example of a player leading by example.

He also hasn’t been afraid to be refreshingly candid in the public eye when needed, whether it was a matter of stateside politics when kneeling during the US anthem became a huge issue, or telling fans to chill out on playoff talk well before the team had even clinched a spot.

(As always, a huge thank you to Micah Blake McCurdy (On Twitter as @IneffectiveMath) over at HockeyViz.com for his fantastic work with charts and visualizations that helped us with our LogBook series.)

THE PLAYOFFS

BLAKE WHEELER PLAYOFF SCORING
Scor Scor Scor Ice
Season GP G A PTS +/- PIM S S% TSA ATOI HIT BLK TK GV
2017-18 17 3 18 21 2 10 49 6.1 102 20:20 28 12 6 4
Career 42 5 23 28 -7 18 82 6.1 177 16:47 57 20 15 9

The playoffs was more of the same story for Blake. Leadership by example and being a point per game player and being a strong set-up man in the offensive end. His offensive production didn’t dip at all, but again his work in the defensive end of the ice was exposed at times under some tough matchups.

In all it was pretty much a complete carry over from his regular season and even though the focus wasn’t all on him by any stretch, it was a nice opportunity for Blake to get some much deserved attention as a top forward and NHL captain.

FUTURE OUTLOOK

Aye, here is where things get super complicated. Blake is now in the last year of a very good deal from the view point of the Winnipeg Jets and is due for a new contract next summer. If he keeps up this level of play, there should be no doubt he should be able to cash in on a multi-year deal worth somewhere in the neighborhood of the seven to eight million dollar range.

But he’s also 31 and while the money is one issue that needs to be dealt with, term will be key and how it factors into other contracts the Jets will need to hand out to Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor who at the same time will see their entry level deals expire and will command significant raises as well.

It’s a situation that kind of mirrors the same one the Jets were in with former captain Andrew Ladd, but it’s fair to argue the Jets are looking at someone more talented in Wheeler in this case. Like the Ladd situation, the Jets can absolutely not afford to lose Wheeler next summer without getting something in exchange via a trade at the deadline or even perhaps earlier, but it’s also tough to imagine this Jets team without their current captain, especially given how much more Wheeler seems to mean to the Jets than Ladd ever did.

As the season presses on without any clear indication of what the Jets may do with Wheeler, the questions will become more frequent and it will happen as he is trying to once again captain his club to another Western Finals appearance and beyond. It may be the toughest test of his leadership and poise under it.

FINAL GRADE: A+