Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart won’t sugarcoat it: They’re happy for their former teammates, but it was hard to watch them win the Stanley Cup without them.
“It was a weird feeling,” Stuart, who was traded along with Wheeler to Atlanta last February in the Rich Peverley deal, said of watching the playoffs. “Happy for those guys, happy when they won, and it’s also tough. It’s really tough to watch, because you want to be there and you want to be part of it.”
Said Wheeler: “It was gratifying, but it was hard at the same time. You want to be a part of it, but you certainly take something out of it, just watching the guys that you played with for a few years. That was the hardest part of getting traded. Stewie and I both knew it was a very real possibility that that was going to happen. To see it come true was certainly a mixed bag of emotions for sure. Definitely happy for all the guys. They certainly work harder than anyone, and they deserved it.”
The two have now settled in with the Jets, as the Thrashers relocated to Winnipeg over the summer. All that moving kept the players busy, but they didn’t mind having to move twice.
“I think it’s been easier for me than some of these guys,” Stuart said. “I wasn’t in Atlanta for too long, so it wasn’t really like I got settled in there. I stayed in a hotel there, so when we moved to Winnipeg, it was almost like Boston to Winnipeg in a sense because I didn’t really have enough time to get settled in Atlanta.”
Winnipeg has 22 points on the season, good for fourth in the Southeast conference, but they’re just three points out of being in the top eight. Stuart has two goals and four assists for six points this season, while Wheeler has just one goal and 10 assists for 11 points.
“Mark Stuart is a guy that plays with a lot of bite for us, and his aggressive nature,” Winnipeg coach Claude Noel said Saturday morning. “He’s a guy that plays with his heart more than on his sleeve, he plays with his heart, period. It shows on our team. He’s part of our leadership group, a big part of it. He exemplifies a lot of what our team needs to be, and that’s just a hard-working group that plays hard and plays for the team. He’s been really good for us. He’s been really excellent for us.
“Blake got off to a little frustrating start. He didn’t score a whole lot, so he’s been trying to find his game to a degree. He’s been way better over the last four or five games. He’s got really good speed. He can really take pucks to the net. He’s a guy that can create offense, and he’s been good as well, especially lately he’s been really good. He’s found a little bit more of a niche in our lineup. For us he’s an offensive guy that we can rely on.”
The Jets certainly don’t have the star power of the Bruins, but the players hope they’re trending upwards. They both have experience playing on a rising team, as Stuart, the team’s first-round pick in the 2003 draft, played with the team in the dark, non-playoff days of 2005-06 and 2006-07. Wheeler came in following the team’s first playoff appearance in three years and saw the B’s become a more serious contender in each of his three seasons in Boston. He hopes the same can happen in Winnipeg.
“Just being in that organization, you know what it takes,” Wheeler said of Boston. “They do everything right, and when you go to a new organization, you kind of try to bring some of that with you, kind of knowing what it takes to go all the way. Just making the playoffs is a huge first step for us. Just a few years ago, [Boston] was kind of in the same boat, trying to bring itself up, make the playoffs. They did it a few years in a row, and look at them now.”