Boston, MA -- Blake Wheeler has the look of a man on a mission. Left unsettled by the conclusion of 2008-09, over the summer Wheeler made sure he did everything possible to come back to training camp as strong and as physically fit as possible.
“The way things ended last year it left sort of a sour taste in everyone’s mouth,” said Wheeler. “And it did for me especially.”
By all acounts, during his rookie season Wheeler had an excellent run. In 81 games, he logged 21 goals, 24 assists for 45 points as well as a +36 rating and 46 penalty minutes -- a heck of a season for any player, never mind one slotted to begin the year in the AHL by most pundits.
“I thought he had a good year and it’s unfortunate because people always remember how you finish and they forget sometimes how you start,” said head coach Claude Julien. “And I thought overall if I had to analyze it, he had a real good one.”
Despite his coach’s praise, Wheels remains angry about his production near the end of the regular season and in the playoffs.
“I felt like I could have done a lot more at the end to help our team,” he said on Sunday. “[It] hurt a lot.
"Especially when you have to go home and watch playoff hockey and you feel like you could be out there contributing.”
To Wheeler, the summer felt interminable.
“It kind of made me really anxious to get back here, but anxious to get back on the ice and it felt great to be back there today and kick things off again,” he said. “Tuesday we already got a game, so I just can’t wait to get back on the ice.”
In order to ensure success on that ice, Wheeler eschewed the links for the weight room. Already an accomplished offensive threat, Wheeler added 15-pounds of muscle in an effort to fill out his
“John Whitesides [the Bruins strength and conditioning coach] paid me a little visit this summer and any of you guys that have met Whitey know that he’s a pretty intense guy,” said Blake. “He and I kind of just had our own little program going -- really religiously sticking to his program everyday, running on the track everyday no matter what the weather and little things like that.
“You’d be surprised just staying dedicated to the small things and not skipping things everyday [pays] off.
“So far I’ve felt good out there and I’ve just got to maintain that. And I think that’s the key to success is maintaining throughout the year.”
Now Wheeler wants to make all of his hard work pay off.
“That’s why I kind of pushed myself to a different level this summer,” he said. “I wanted to take my game to the next level.
“So now it’s time to show it and we’ll see what happens.”
And when he took the ice at the TD Garden for the first time this season, fans could see an immediate difference. Wheeler looked stronger and, clearly, not shy about throwing his newfound weight around as evidenced by at least two thundering checks during the first session of practice.
As for the exhibition games that begin on Tuesday, Wheeler said the team will be ready.
“We can’t worry about what other people think of us, we can’t worry about teams being prepared to play us because we’re going to be prepared to play them,” said Wheeler. “So regardless of what they think of us, we’re going to give them our best game and hopefully that’s good enough.