PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — U.S.A. Hockey is far less concerned with Blake Wheeler’s season than what they believe he can deliver on the Olympic ice surface.
A high ranking U.S.A. Hockey official told the Free Press on Tuesday they are "very interested," in the veteran Winnipeg Jets forward.
"We look at the body of work and the fit they can supply us in Sochi," said the executive, requesting anonymity. "Wheeler’s size and speed make him attractive to us."
The U.S. is small on the right side with Patrick Kane, Phil Kessel, Ryan Callahan and Bobby Ryan pushing for work. Wheeler is bigger, 6-5 and 210 pounds, than any of the right-wingers forecasted to make the American team.
With seven goals and 14 assists for 21 points through 31 games and a lack of physical play, Wheeler has been viewed as a disappointment this season after signing a six-year, $33.6-million contract last summer.
But none of that matters to the U.S. selection committee. They like Wheeler’s ability to play with speed and to take advantage of the extra 15-feet in width on the international ice surface.
Wheeler hasn’t secured a spot on Team U.S.A. at this stage but he’s been pencilled in. A solid push over the next month will make that permanent.