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Bruins accept arbitration award, sign Wheeler

by Brian Hunter
It's been an exciting week for Blake Wheeler.

Recently returned from his honeymoon in Hawaii, the 23-year-old forward was awarded a one-year, $2.2 million deal in arbitration on Thursday -- then, on Friday, the Boston Bruins elected to accept the decision, keeping Wheeler in the fold for the coming season.

"It is never a pleasant experience for either side to go to arbitration," Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli said in a statement. "However, as a manager, you know that the player will be under contract for the following year either way. We talked to Blake before and after the hearing and we are satisfied to have a good, young player under contract for another year."

Wheeler, originally drafted with the No. 5 pick by Phoenix in the 2004 Entry Draft, appeared in all 82 regular-season games for Boston last season and had 18 goals and 38 points. He added 1 goal and 6 points in 13 playoff contests. As a rookie in 2008-09, he totaled 21 goals and 45 points.

"I wanted to be in Boston, not only because our group of guys are so good -- we had a great locker room the last two years, great chemistry -- but I think we're right on cusp of getting where we want to go. I think every guy in room can feel that," Wheeler said during a conference call Friday.

Other than being a bit jet-lagged and running on about three hours of sleep after going from his honeymoon to the arbitration hearing in Toronto, Wheeler said the process turned out to be a fairly smooth one.

"Before the hearing I was anxious, you hear all the horror stories of different things that go on in those rooms," he said. "Once I was in there, with both sides being argued, it was handled extremely professionally. Nothing was said in that room I didn't already know myself, no low blows were taken on either side. It was handled extremely well, and when the hearing was over I felt great about it. I'm really happy to be through with that part of the process."

Asked about the areas of his game he feels can be improved, Wheeler said he's looking for more ways to be a contributing factor on the ice besides just scoring goals and putting up points.

"If I can assert myself more physically on the forecheck, it will create a lot more opportunities for myself and the guys I'm playing with to get more offensive opportunities," he said. "Sometimes it's all about less is more, and when you take a step back from things it's easier to see where you can improve."

Wheeler added he's in his best shape ever physically and mentally. He's been taking time during the offseason to focus on his shot, heading down to his garage and firing pucks into a tarp as he works on expanding his offensive repertoire.

"I'm getting comfortable shooting from farther away from the net," he said. "Any time you can let a shot go from the top of the circles in, it's a pretty good look. Just that mentality -- getting comfortable letting the puck go. I've been more of a passer my first two years, so I want to close the gap and shoot a little more."

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