Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

If Wheeler shoots, he'll score more

Jets power forward happy being a helper, should become a finisher

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Goals have rarely come directly off the stick of Blake Wheeler this season but he's still been one of Winnipeg's biggest producers.

Wheeler has just three goals but a team-leading 18 assists as the big winger continues his development as a top-end dish man.

There's been lots to like about Wheeler's game and he's certainly been productive, if not a little weak in the goal department.

There's no doubt he can pass but there's also no question that he needs to shoot and score more.

The Minnesota native had his best offensive numbers in 2007-08 with the Boston Bruins, scoring 21 goals and 24 assists in the rookie season of his four-year NHL career.

The goal total is likely safe but the assist mark is soon to be eclipsed and Wheeler is all good with being a helper rather than a finisher.

"I get more joy out making somebody else's day. If it was 18-3 the other way, I'd have more of a problem with it. I enjoy moving the puck around and getting everyone involved. The goals will come, just by creating chances," said Wheeler.

The natural assumption when one first sees Wheeler play is that he's a prototypical power forward. At 6-foot-5 and 214 pounds with lots of speed and soft hands, he could certainly be a net-crashing goal scorer.

But Wheeler's ice vision might be his best asset and he says how the puck gets in the net or who puts it there isn't paramount.

"I was taught by a guy who had a lot of points that it's not the first or second column that they count but the third column," said the 25-year-old Wheeler, who was traded by the Bruins to the Atlanta Thrashers last season. "So, regardless, the goals are for the team and I'm not concerned who is putting the puck in the net so long as it gets there."

Three goals, however, isn't enough from Wheeler and there needs to be more of a scoring element to his game.

"It's driven some of my coaches nuts because I get into certain spots and they just want me to shoot and I'm looking for the next pass," said Wheeler. "I'm playing with guys that see the ice really well and if they can score better than me, then I'm good making the pass to them."

The line of Wheeler, Bryan Little and Evander Kane has been Winnipeg's most potent this season.

"You can't cover Kane, especially on the breakouts. He's just gone and that's the name of the game, to give him the puck with speed. For me, to play with a guy that likes to shoot like he does and that's dangerous from anywhere in the zone is perfect. You make one pass and he creates his own chance. He can score from anywhere," said Wheeler. "And Lits, he's been hot and he can really find the open spots."

Wheeler's selfless approach is admirable but the best passers in hockey history all scored lots of goals as well.

Shooting more will round out Wheeler's game and make him less predictable and more effective.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 21, 2011 C3

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