Time for Blake Wheeler to step up and pull the Jets through

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The Winnipeg Jets need someone to set himself apart. They need a hero. And if anyone is going to do it, it will be Blake Wheeler.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 03/04/2015 (2794 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Winnipeg Jets need someone to set himself apart. They need a hero. And if anyone is going to do it, it will be Blake Wheeler.

Dan Bylsma and the U.S. Olympic team made enough mistakes to have the cheerleaders in their media contingent seething by the end of the tournament in Sochi last winter. Ignoring Wheeler and his talents was one of the biggest blunders.

When Bylsma finally gave Wheeler some work, a lot of eyes were opened. The size and the speed were impressive. Wheeler discovered something as well in that moment. He’s different. He’s special. And he can be elite.

Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press New York Ranger #5 Dan Giradi blocks a screen shot in front of netminder Henrik Lundqvist Winnipeg Jet #26 Blake Wheeler was hoping to take advantage of Tuesday at the MTS Center. March 31, 2015.

Wheeler doesn’t believe he can be one of the best in the NHL. He knows it.

Now, with the Jets’ season on the line and alpha-male defenceman Dustin Byfuglien suspeneded for the next four games, it’s time for Wheeler to show it. Five games to go and the only sure way to reach the post season is to rattle off five straight wins. Maybe four gets the Jets in, or perhaps even three is enough. Regardless, if the Jets are to get a ticket to the post-season party, Wheeler must put his hands on it and take it for the Jets. He must be the catalyst.

The final push starts today against the visiting Vancouver Canucks in a game Wheeler considers a must-win.

“We have to get the good feelings back in this room. I don’t worry about the numbers. I know if we win all our games, we’ll achieve what we’re after,” said Wheeler, following Friday’s practice. “We can win five in a row. We’ve done it before this season. Maybe three or fours win are enough. But why not win five?”

The Jets have some talented players, but none approaches the package Wheeler now has to offer. He remains the most skilled and capable of the Jets when size, speed and offensive abilities are factored in. More importantly, however, Wheeler seems ready for such a moment. Actually, he’s begging for it. Blake Wheeler wants to be better than the rest and he wants the hockey world to see it.

Wheeler was asked in a number of ways about the pressure of needing to rise above the fray and deliver in this most critical of moments. His answer wasn’t boastful, but it wasn’t hesitant.

“I’m confident in what I can do,” said the 28-year-old Wheeler, who has 25 goals and 59 points through 75 games.

No more and no less. No speech about how he believes he can score 50 in the NHL. No dancing away from the subject. Just a statement, in quiet hockey player fashion. But make no mistake, the message from Wheeler was clear — he’s ready to take off and he wants to make the most of this chance.

Wheeler has an anger about him now.

It could be seen in his physique this past training camp when the muscles around his neck vibrated like steel cables.

It could be heard when he spat out scorn for his own words and those of his teammates on the subject of accountability. Actions, said Wheeler, were all that counted, and the talk from the past was cheap.

On the ice, the anger burst through when one of his teammates was abused. All of a sudden, Wheeler’s gloves were on the ice and he was throwing punches.

Reputations are made in the post-season. Fewer teams play and the regional aspect of hockey falls away. It becomes a continental game with folks in Boston watching games from Calgary and the people in Ottawa paying attention to happenings in L.A.

Wheeler gets this and he wants to take part. He wants in on the action. Another early spring of kicking around the house and watching games on TV at night rather than playing in them won’t sit well.

Blake Wheeler is ready to announce himself. He’s ready to join the best players in the game and take his seat at the table.

These are must wins for the Jets’ playoff hopes. But for the Jets to win, this is a must situation for Wheeler. He must break out. He must be seen and heard. He must take over.

It’s a team game. But this is Blake Wheeler’s team right now. Time for him to take them where they want and need to go.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @garylawless

History

Updated on Friday, April 3, 2015 8:23 PM CDT: Writethrough

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