Boston, MA - While Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien explained that the Bruins still have a lot of decisions to make in the days before the season opener, the talk around the Hub of Hockey has been the possibility of an opening on the squad for a centerman.
One young player who will get a shot to fill that slot is University of Minnesota alum, Blake Wheeler.
“I’d still like to see Blake Wheeler play center at some point and see if he can return to the comfort zone that he had when he played that position when he was at school,” said Julien during Monday’s conference call.
Wheeler, who had transitioned to a winger after leaving college, feels comfortable picking up right where he left off at center.
“It’s been fine. It’s been really no different than when I used to play there,” Wheeler said. “It takes little bit of time to get used to all the skating, you know, it’s a lot more skating up the middle, so that in itself is a little bit of an adjustment, but other than that, it’s really not that big of a deal.
“Everyone knows each other’s position pretty well out there. Everyone knows where the other is supposed to be just by playing with them so, it really doesn’t take much time at all.”
Besides the extra skating, Wheeler thinks faceoffs will be the most difficult part of the transition.
“That’s the biggest thing -- that repetition always [makes] you a little bit better at the craft,” said the third-year pro.
The 6’5, 208-pounder feels that his pure size could be an asset at center for the B’s this season.
“I think defensively...you can be more of a presence there, kind of trying to plug up holes a little bit more and stuff like that,” said Wheeler as the club prepared to leave the TD Garden for the game against the Capitals in Washington, DC.
Offensively, however, Wheeler is prepared to use his size on the wing or in the middle.
“In the offensive zone, there are no positions," he said. "Everyone is kind of going around, filling holes wherever they may be, so offensively, it’s no different where you’re playing, you’ve just got to get to the net.”
Given the choice, Wheeler said he doesn't have any preference between playing center or wing.
“At this stage you really don’t need preferences, it’s just wherever you can help the team in the best way," he said. "So that’s all that matters at this point and wherever they plug you in, you’ve just got to do you best.”
However, as training camp draws to a close, he does recognize the fact that his flexibility between positions could really set him apart from.
“I think versatility in any sport is a good thing. Guys that can play any position, even baseball, football, hockey, it’s no different. If you can fill holes when guys go down or guys get hurt, your value to the team increases that much more,” Wheeler explained.
“For me, wherever they put me, I just want to be reliable and be somebody that they have confidence in out there on the ice.”