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Wheeler Ready for a Shot at Center

by Staff Writer / Boston Bruins
BOSTON – With the news that the B’s latest concussion victim, center David Krejci, will be out of commission for at least a week, some players came out to the ice at Ristuccia wearing a different color practice jersey than usual. 

St. Louis Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak stops Boston Bruins Blake Wheeler (26) as defenseman Nikita Nikitin helps out during the second period of a NHL hockey game in Boston Saturday, Nov. 6, 2010. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
Blake Wheeler, who has consistently played the first part of the 2010-11 season as a winger, spent the day as a center flanked by future Hall-of-Famer Mark Recchi and B’s youngster Jordan Caron.

“Today was a bit of a shock to the system, all the skating and stuff, but it’s always nice, I find, because [playing center] really gets you into the game,” Wheeler said after Monday’s ice time. “It really gets you involved a lot faster than wing does sometimes because you’re up and down the ice and you’ve got to be really focused defensively.

“I always like playing center, so it should be a good challenge.”

The University of Minnesota alum feels comfortable with his ability to handle the switch, as he was a centerman long before he transitioned to wing in the NHL. 

“It’s always a good thing to be able to play any position. You know, certainly being able to play center helps in this situation when guys go down.

“It’s exciting just to have the option just to skate a lot. I think that’s where everyone is at their best, when they’re moving their feet and skating, so you’re kind of forced to do that when you play up the middle, and you know, I’m hoping to bring my legs that night,” Wheeler explained.

And of course, having a good familiarity with your linemates is always an added bonus that can make the whole operation run smoother. 

“[Mark Recchi] always makes it easier on you no matter where you are, so that’s always nice. Jordan [Caron] is really strong on the puck, too, so it won’t be any problem for us,” said the third-year pro. 

“We’re going to have to help each other out, and pick each other up, and it should be no different.”

Making the transition even easier, Wheeler had the opportunity to gain some valuable time at center this preseason before making the full-time shift to wing.

“Kind of a crash course, you know, refreshing just all the little nuances of playing center, so that was huge,” Wheeler said of his time spent playing in the middle for the B’s.

“It gave me the confidence to know that I can still do it at this level and be effective, so for me, that was the biggest thing, just knowing you can do it and we’ll just see how it goes.”

But despite being given the prospect of getting to try his hand at both center and wing throughout the remainder of this season, Wheeler will be the first to admit that he doesn’t have any preference when it comes to the two positions.

“It doesn’t really matter what position you’re etched in at. More or less everyone plays the same position anyway at some point in the game. For me it doesn’t really matter, as long as you’re in the lineup playing and playing well.”

Wheeler, Recchi and Caron all have high hopes for their new line combination but intend to follow just one rule.

“I know for a fact our line, we’ve got to keep it simple early on, especially, guys kind of playing our position,” Wheeler commented. 

“You know, the more you play in the offensive zone, the less you have to worry about the defensive responsibilities anyway.”

---Ashley Robbins
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