It took Blake Wheeler and the Boston Bruins a weekend trip to Toronto and a meeting with an arbitrator to agree to financial terms. But at the end of the day, or three days, the two sides met halfway and can now focus on the task at hand: preparing for the 2010-11 NHL season.
“There was nothing really surprised me in there [arbitration hearing]. There was no personal attacks or anything like that, so it was all done in a very professional manner and I think after the hearing was done both sides were happy about how things went.” said Wheeler during this morning’s conference call to the media.
“I’m really excited to be back in Boston for another season.” Wheeler said “It’s been a long process but we’re both very excited [my agent Matt and I] to get a deal in place to be back in Boston. At the end of the day I think it’s very fair on both ends, now it’s all about business and get back to the right spot for the Bruins organization.”
Originally drafted fifth overall in the first-round of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft by the Phoenix Coyotes, Wheeler signed with the Bruins as a free-agent on July 1, 2008. Pinned as a young prospect to start the 2008-09 NHL season in Providence (AHL), Wheeler showcased his skills and wowed the Bruins coaching staff during training amp and landed himself a full-time position in Boston.
Two years and 39-44-83 totals in 163 NHL games later, Wheeler has proven himself to be a legitimate top-6 forward at the NHL level. Last year, the 6’5″ forward packed on a good bit of lean muscle during the offseason, and is looking forward to getting himself in even better shape this year by doing more of the same training.
“I’m very happy just getting the whole process over with and having a deal in place so my focus can now be on getting myself in the best shape possible for this upcoming season.” added Wheeler. “I think pretty much doing the same thing as last summer. I came into camp in probably the best shape I’ve ever been in — physically, menatally, all of the above”
Despite adding size to his 6’5″ frame, Wheeler failed to use that extra size and strength to his advantage. And being one of the bigger players on the club, Wheeler registered just 70 total hits (13th on the squad) during his 82 games played last regular season. But he now understands that being more physical is something that he must be this upcoming season — not for only himself, but his linemates as well.
“I think for me its all about, especially on the forecheck, just being more physical, being more of a presence. I think I’ve gotten so focused on the offense production and the numbers side of things, especially last year where I think there was definitely more ways to be a contributing factor out on the ice.” said Wheeler. “It’s all about understanding your areas of strength and your areas of weakness. I think if I can just assert myself more physically, especially like I said on the forecheck and things of that nature, it’s going to create a lot more opportunities for myself and the guys I’m playing with to get more offensive opportunities. Sometimes it’s about ‘less is more’ and when you take a step back from things it’s a little bit easier to notice where you may be able to improve on things.”
His 159 shots on goal last year ranked him fifth in Boston. But Wheeler is focusing on becoming more of a shooter, while leaving his pass-first mentality behind him.
“My training is pretty much the same as it was last year. The thing I’m really focusing on is shooting pucks. I’ve been working on my shot quite a bit this summer trying to do whatever it takes to extend my range a little bit. I set-up a shooting tarp in my garage. Whenever there’s nothing to do just go out there and pump some pucks at the tarp.” said Wheeler ”Getting comfortable shooting from father away from the net.” added Wheeler. “Anytime you can put a shot on net from really, anywhere, top of the circles and in it’s going to be a pretty good look.
“I’ve probably been more of a passer in my first two years and I think I’d like to close the gap a little bit and start shooting a little bit more, so working on that definitely will help.”