WINNIPEG - Practice was still in session for the Winnipeg Jets when the news broke of the acquisition of Paul Stastny from the St. Louis Blues, but Blake Wheeler had more than an inkling that it may be happening.
"I talked to him briefly last night," said Wheeler. "Any questions he had, obviously I was more than happy to answer. I was excited about the prospect and wanted him to know that we were excited about the possibility. From there, the rest was up to him.
"Obviously his name wasn't even out there, so I was surprised to hear it, but my fingers were crossed."
Video: PRACTICE | Paul Maurice
Crossing his fingers worked, as Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff was able to acquire the 32-year-old centre in exchange for a 2018 first round pick, prospect Erik Foley, and a conditional fourth round selection at the 2020 NHL Draft.
"Kevin, like he does every year, explored every option," said Jets head coach Paul Maurice. "This one fits specifically to what we need. We're pretty excited about that, that we have a chance to get better. "
Wheeler and Stastny played with Team USA at the 2014 Olympics, and with EHC Munchen of the Deutsche Eishockey Liga during the lockout in the 2012-13 NHL season, but they go back much further than that.
"We've had the same agent for a long time. Way back to when we were teenagers doing USA stuff, and went to a couple camps in Minnesota together too," said Wheeler, who has spent a lot of time around the Stastny family.
He's good friends with Paul's brother Yan, and has spent time with Paul and Yan's father Peter, who played 977 career games in the NHL, scoring 450 goals and amassing 1,239 points.
Video: PRACTICE | Blake Wheeler
"His dad is as smart a hockey guy as there is out there. I've had an opportunity to sit in on a couple of those conversations, and it's pretty awesome," said Wheeler. "He's just a guy that has been around the rink his whole life, and been through a ton in his NHL career, played a ton of games, played in big games - just another guy to come in, bring confidence, and some leadership to our group."
Stastny has 12 goals and 40 points through 63 games with the St. Louis Blues this season, and has played in 805 career games between the Blues and the Colorado Avalanche.
Veterans like that are valuable for a young Jets team, says head coach Paul Maurice.
"We have experience in terms of young guys that have played some games," said Maurice. "A guy in the middle of the ice that's played 800 (games), that's taken a ton of face-offs, that knows the other teams, that knows the other players. All the real coaching on the bench goes between players.
Video: PRACTICE | Nikolaj Ehlers
"All those little subtle things, that's where those guys are worth their weight in gold."
Maurice said he still has two or three different possibilities for what line Stastny will play on, but adds he can play in all situations, including the power play and penalty kill.
He was valuable in the middle of the ice for St. Louis, as he was the centre that took the most defensive zone draws on the team (270). His 55.2 per cent face-off win percentage is also a welcome addition to the Jets, who are already the fifth best team in the dot this season.
"He's played against the other team's best by role for an awful lot of years. He has real nice vision and creativity," said Maurice. "We get a guy that we can move around with different people. He's a lot like the other centremen that we have, really versatile, which is important to us because we move our wings a fair amount."
Video: PRACTICE | Patrik Laine
Wheeler can't wait for Stastny to arrive, especially with another Central Division tilt on the schedule for tomorrow night, as the Jets host the Nashville Predators to open a quick two-game home stand.
"What he brings to our team is something that's going to be really helpful for us," said Wheeler. "He can plug into a number of holes, awesome face off guy, he's put up numbers his entire career. (He's) an outstanding guy in the room."