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That was then, Wheeler ready for now

Veteran optimistic about new season with 'nice little new toy to play with'

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Winnipeg Jets Blake Wheeler during a practice at the MTS Centre late last year.</p>

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Winnipeg Jets Blake Wheeler during a practice at the MTS Centre late last year.

When Blake Wheeler and his Winnipeg Jets teammates departed the MTS Centre in April, it was with glum faces and just 78 points in the Central Division basement.

“There’s definitely a lot of disappointment with the way it went,” Wheeler said during an end-of-season session with reporters.

The veteran right-winger, who had just recorded his personal-best scoring numbers in the NHL — 78 points in the 82 games — also parted with a promise to be optimistic again before 2016-17 started.

He probably didn’t realize how quickly things would move in that direction in Winnipeg, but that’s what lottery success, the No. 2 overall draft selection of Patrik Laine and contract extensions for key teammates Mark Scheifele and Mathieu Perreault, among other things, have done to attitudes in Jets Nation.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/7/2016 (497 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

When Blake Wheeler and his Winnipeg Jets teammates departed the MTS Centre in April, it was with glum faces and just 78 points in the Central Division basement.

"There’s definitely a lot of disappointment with the way it went," Wheeler said during an end-of-season session with reporters.

The veteran right-winger, who had just recorded his personal-best scoring numbers in the NHL — 78 points in the 82 games — also parted with a promise to be optimistic again before 2016-17 started.

He probably didn’t realize how quickly things would move in that direction in Winnipeg, but that’s what lottery success, the No. 2 overall draft selection of Patrik Laine and contract extensions for key teammates Mark Scheifele and Mathieu Perreault, among other things, have done to attitudes in Jets Nation.

Wheeler was asked if he’s surprised at the quick improvement in outlook in the community only midway through this off-season.

"As much as anyone, especially the older guys on our team, we felt the (disappointment), and I know that because we talked about it every single day," Wheeler said Thursday over the phone from his summer home in Florida. "Sitting on the couch after the season was over and watching the playoffs, it was a bad feeling, a really bad feeling probably this year more than any other year.

"And as it went on, the bad taste of last year started to go away, and you started to re-hash things and think about the season and about some of the guys we have, some of the young guys we have and now some more of the young guys we have, it’s kind of like, ‘OK, I get it now.’

"To answer your question, I think now certainly I do have a clear view of where we’re headed and what’s ahead of us. I’m probably more excited today than I have been at any point about what we have going forward, just from purely a talent standpoint."

Wheeler said the clarity family and quiet time has offered him underscores just how important the closing weeks of last season were for the Jets, even though they were guaranteed to be out of the playoffs.

And he said that Jets head coach Paul Maurice managed that mess adeptly.

"(About) Paul, from the bit I’ve talked to guys around the league who have played for him and know about him, everyone just loves him as a coach, loves what he brings to the table," Wheeler said. "We have so many good things in place and so many promising pieces to look at...

"We never laid down and said, OK, let’s try to get Auston Matthews or Patrik Laine or any of these guys. Let’s finish the right way and do this the right way, and that says everything you need to know about who we are as a team and who we are as an organization, starting with Mark Chipman and with Chevy (GM Kevin Cheveldayoff). There was never a point where (anyone said) we’re going to take some guys out of the lineup and try to pad this thing up so we can position ourselves.

"We tried to win every game, and that’s the way I believe it should be done and sure enough, the lottery balls reward you for that stuff. I believe if you do things the right way, you’re going to get rewarded. Now we’ve got a nice little new toy to play with."

The Jets still have to decide who their next captain is going to be. They simply went with alternates, including Wheeler, after captain Andrew Ladd, a pending UFA who has now signed with the Islanders, was traded before last February’s deadline.

Wheeler said he has considered the matter over the summer and would still be honoured to serve.

"Regardless of what letter I have on my jersey, my role on the team and who I am with the team is not going to change," he said. "I think last year was a big growing year for me, with foot on the gas the whole time."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

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History

Updated on Thursday, July 14, 2016 at 9:14 PM CDT: Updates with writethru

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