Wilmington, MA --
On the third morning of the Bruins recent Development Camp, B’s Vice President and former player Cam Neely gave the newly-signed Blake Wheeler some advice:
“Just keep putting your head down and driving to the net, and good things will happen.”
While Neely was actually talking about the one-on-one drills the team was running that morning, his words seem to sum up the Wheeler's young career.
Since being drafted fifth overall by the Phoenix Coyotes in the 2004 Entry Draft, Wheeler has been working hard to earn his shot at a big-league contract and being patient until it came.
After the 2004 draft, Wheeler spent the year playing for the USHL Green Bay Gamblers, where, in 58 games, he totaled 47 points – 19 goals and 28 assists – and earned himself a position on the USHL All-Rookie team. Then, the now-21-year-old forward, headed to the University of Minnesota in 2005, and, during his freshman season with the Gophers he even played on the same line as current Bruin Phil Kessel.
“Playing in a league like that, the WCHA, it helped my game,” Wheeler explained. “It’s a tough league, a very competitive league, so you have to bring your A-game every night to be successful.”
In his three years at school, Wheeler played in 127 games, earning 96 points and a spot on the All-WCHA Third Team while balancing classes and a social life at the same time.
“You have to kind of shut hockey off at some point and turn school on, and then you have to know when to turn school off and put hockey on,” Wheeler explained. “You don’t even realize how much of an effect it can have on your hockey game.”
He also played in the 2006 World Junior Championships on Team USA, scoring two goals during the seven games.
Perfecting the balancing act and playing well finally paid off this year when, on July 1, the B’s signed Wheeler as a free agent, and he’s thankful for the time he’s had to perfect his game.
|Wheeler, shown here with Wayne Gretzky, was originally drafted by Phoenix. |
“I’ve had three more years of experience and three more years of maturity,” Wheeler said. “Now I’ve kind of developed a bit, and I’ve grown into my body a little bit more and feel a little more comfortable on the ice.”
But he knows he still has work to do.
“We worked on protecting the puck a lot,” said Wheeler. “That’s something I think that can benefit a guy like me.
“I need to be strong on the wall, and I need to be good at protecting the puck and sticking my rear-end out and all those little things that it takes to be a good player.”
And while there may still be work to do before training camp, Wheeler and the rest of the campers are enjoyed their time in Wilmington.
“I think everyone’s legs are pretty tired…and I think there are a lot of sore muscles,” he said, “but other than that, it just feels great to get on the ice, move the puck around, and have a little bit of fun.”