Blake Wheeler has had his plate full this offseason. The 23-year-old recently got married and said he was operating on just three hours of sleep in the days leading up to Tuesday’s arbitration hearing with the Bruins. After he was awarded a salary of $2.2 million for the 2010-11 season, the Bruins on Friday agreed to the terms, meaning he will be in the fold for the coming season.
Despite how hectic things may have been in planning a wedding and trying to figure out whether he would be back with the team he played his first two seasons for, a considerable amount of time in Wheeler’s offseason has gone into becoming the player he and many others feel he can be.
“I think for me it’s all about — especially on the forecheck — being more physical, more of a presence. I think I’ve gotten so focused on the offensive production and the numbers side of things, especially last year, where I think there’s definitely more ways to be a contributing factor out on the ice,” Wheeler said Friday. “It’s just all about understanding your areas of strengths and your areas of weakness. I think if I can just assert myself more physically , especially on the forecheck and things of that nature, it’s going to create a lot more opportunities for myself and the guys I’m playing with to get more offensive opportunities. Sometimes it’s about less is more, and when you kind of take a step back from things, it’s a little bit easier to notice where you may be able to improve on things.”
Wheeler has fallen under criticism for not being physical enough for a forward of 6-foot-3 stature. However, as he works at being more aggressive on the forecheck, there are plenty of positives in his game. He scored 20 and 18 goals in his first two seasons, respectively, and his potential seems to be far from maxed out.
Despite having a respectable 83 points for someone entering their third season in the NHL, Wheeler is also hoping to show up more on the scoring sheet next season. As a result, he’s made a big part of his offseason revolve around shooting. In fact, Wheeler is so eager to become a better scorer that he’s made it so he can work from home.
“I think pretty much doing the exact same thing I did last summer. I came into camp probably in the best shape I’ve ever been in physically, mentally, all the above. My training’s pretty much the same as it was last year. The thing I’m really focusing on is shooting pucks. I’ve been working on my shot quite a bit this summer, trying to do whatever it takes to extend my range a little bit,” Wheeler said. “I set up a shooting tarp in my garage. Whenever there’s nothing to do [I] just go out there and pump some pucks at the tarp, so I guess that’s the only real difference, trying to work on the shot and things like that.”
As Wheeler takes shot after shot in his garage in Minnesota, what does he look to accomplish?
“Getting comfortable shooting from farther away from the net. Any time you can put a shot on net from really anywhere — you know, top of the circle and in, it’s going to be a pretty good look — so I think just getting that mentality and getting comfortable letting the puck go like that, is something that could really help me,” Wheeler said. “I’ve obviously probably been more of a passer in my first two years and I think I’d like to close the gap a little bit and start shooting a little bit more, so working on that definitely will help.”
The Bruins and Wheeler’s camp each drove a hard bargain, but should they get their resources in order, $2.2 million for someone intent on addressing their weaknesses could be a pretty good deal.