WINNIPEG - Blake Wheeler is ready to return from the concussion that caused him to miss the last six games on the Winnipeg Jets schedule.
He'll have to wait a bit longer, as the Jets don't continue their five-game home stand until Thursday night. Even though Wheeler hates to miss time - he'd only missed six games prior to this injury since the Jets relocated to Winnipeg in 2011 - he admits there was one big positive.
"Honestly, getting these four days in addition to the extra two days, in the long run, is going to make a world of difference," said Wheeler. "I'm just happy to be feeling good, you know, feeling like myself."
Jets head coach Paul Maurice said that Wheeler was cleared to play prior to Saturday's 3-0 loss to the Edmonton Oilers. But with this four-day block away from game action on the other side of that, the decision was made to have Wheeler sit that Edmonton game out.
It was a decision Wheeler agreed with.
"Sometimes you need to take a step back and being away from it for a week allows you to take a step back and just realize what the injury was that I was dealing with," said Wheeler. "The guys went 4-1 on the road and they were playing great. It was unnecessary, to put it quite bluntly. That's where those guys allowing me to take a step back and not only think of myself as a player and trying to get back for the team and be on the ice wherever I can, that was an important conversation."
Video: PRACTICE | Blake Wheeler
The 34-year-old Wheeler was a full participant in Tuesday's practice at Bell MTS Place, the team's first on-ice session after two consecutive days off on Sunday and Monday.
Wheeler was back in his familiar spot, the right wing, with two familiar faces: Mark Scheifele and Kyle Connor.
"Those two guys are two guys I've played with quite a bit over time and they're having great individual seasons. I've just got to try to fit in and get those guys the puck and have a little bit of fun here," said Wheeler. "From a personal standpoint, I'm just looking to be firing on all cylinders by the end of the season, playing my hockey, our team playing our best hockey. I'm looking forward to these 10 games being the first time being healthy all year, 100 percent."
The full Jets line rushes on Tuesday looked like this:
Putting Connor, Scheifele, and Wheeler isn't a new concept for Maurice. It's a line that was dominant in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and scored an overtime winner in the 2019 postseason, but it hasn't been used much in 2020-21.
There was a five-game stretch from Jan. 21-30 where they were reunited (with the Jets winning three of those games), but this will be the first time since then.
"I wanted to come back to it and see what it could do," said Maurice. "I know what the other two lines can do. So we'll run these for a little bit here against Toronto, against Edmonton, and Montreal. If we're comfortable there, we may move some things around to see other things. If not, we still have time to try other combinations."
Tuesday's practice was a delicate balance, as Maurice wanted his players "a little bent over" due to the work level, but he also didn't want any residual soreness coming into Wednesday's skate - which will be more about getting up to game speed both with the legs and the hands.
"We feel we'll be a better rested hockey team than we've been in an awfully long time going into this final push," said Maurice. "I felt looking at our schedule before the Vancouver interruption, from March 8 to April 19 - or after the Edmonton game - that was going to be the telling tale of our season."
Video: PRACTICE | Paul Maurice
The Jets have got through that part of their schedule, and will now be adding a healthy captain back to the mix.
"We want him to feel as good as I think he felt today," said Maurice. "You never come to the rink going, 'I wonder how hard Blake's going to work tonight?'
"I'd like to see that chemistry get re-ignited with that line. Get to more of a playoff style of hockey, that's when they're at their best. They play that game and he's a big part of driving it like that. So, just more of what he's always done would be fine."