Coming off an impressive freshman season at the University of Minnesota, Golden Gopher right wing and Coyotes' prospect Blake Wheeler is poised to make the most out of this week's Coyotes Summer Rookie Camp, which kicked off on Monday.
Like most of the camp's participants, Wheeler was just happy to be back on the ice after a long summer of off-ice conditioning.
"It was good out there," said Wheeler. "I did better than I expected."
On Monday morning, Wheeler and 23 other Coyotes prospects spent the better part of 90-minutes participating in various skating and puck handling drills.
"We worked on some important fundamentals," said Wheeler. "Just getting in shape and working on conditioning."
Following a stellar campaign in the USHL as a high school senior, where the 6'4 winger tallied 47 points (19 goals, 28 assists) in 58 games, Wheeler committed to the University of Minnesota for the start of the 2005-06 season, where he wound up playing alongside Boston Bruins prospect Phil Kessel.
"He's just such an amazing player," said Wheeler of Kessel. "I'm learning a lot from him and I'm excited to keep playing with somebody with his talents."
After finishing third in scoring amongst all freshmen at Minnesota, Wheeler told reporters he hopes to improve his game this summer and looks forward to the professional coaching he'll receive in Phoenix.
"We're working on skating and other basic aspects," said Wheeler. "I'm just doing what I can do get NHL ready."
After finishing the 2005-06 season with a +11 plus/minus rating (with one-third of his goals on the power play), Wheeler is now turning his attention to fundamentals, positional play and defensive hockey, at this week's camp in hopes of bringing his game to the next level.
"They (the coaching staff) really make you see how valuable it is to play two-way hockey," said Wheeler. "It's just something I know I'm going to need to take it to the next level."
Wheeler, who was selected fifth overall by the Coyotes in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, was also enjoying the opportunity of playing alongside his high school teammate and fellow Coyote prospect Peter Mueller.
"I played with him four years back in high school," said Wheeler. "He's a great guy...a great talent and I look forward to playing with him this week, and in the years to come."
Though its unlikely the two talented scorers will dawn the Coyote crest in the upcoming season, the dynamic duo from Breck High School will certainly showcase their first round promise among the talent-rich roster at this weel's Coyotes Rookie Camp.
NOTES FROM CAMP
Coyotes prospect Martin Hanzal arrived for his first on-ice sessions on Tuesday and immediately turned heads with his size and ability.
After spending last season with Omaha in the United States Hockey League (USHL), Hanzal will spend the 2006-07 season as a member of the Red Deer Rebels in the Western Hockey League (WHL), a move he is eager to make.
"I am excited to play for Red Deer and (Head) Coach Brent Sutter," said Hanzal.
Last season Hanzal recorded 19 points (4 goals, 15 assists) along with 34 penalty minutes in 22 games.