Winnipeg Jets

Why you should care that Blake Wheeler is chronically underrated

Winnipeg Jets Right Wing Blake Wheeler (26) looks on during a NHL game between the Minnesota Wild and Winnipeg Jets on November 23rd, 2016 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, MN. Minnesota defeated Winnipeg 3-1.(Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire)
Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire

It’s no secret that Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler in underrated. Search Twitter with the term “Blake Wheeler underrated” and you’ll come up with about 20,000 tweets similar in tone to this:

OK, we get it. Blake Wheeler is underrated and, given his propensity for racking up points while serving as the Jets’ captain and lunch pail-carrying spiritual leader (here’s some proof of that), probably underpaid.

But the fact of the matter is that Wheeler himself probably doesn’t even mind. This is a guy who snubbed the All-Star Game in 2016 after all. To be fair, that incident would have never occurred had Wheeler not been snubbed first. Wheeler had 40 points in his first 40 games that season but was left off the Western Conference’s team. When Jonathan Toews pulled out with illness, Wheeler was asked to play and said thanks but no thanks.

Here was a perfect opportunity for a chronically underrated guy who toils in the smallest NHL market in Canada on a team that has only made the playoffs once in six years to step into the limelight. He could have pumped in four goals, won an MVP trophy and a new truck, booked a magazine cover and locked up an endorsement deal all in one weekend.

Nah. Not his style. Too glitzy.

Wheeler’s style is not having too much style (and we all know how well that sells soda). Style points definitely count in today’s NHL, but Wheeler is a 30-year-old meat-and-potatoes power forward who just happens to be incredibly good at what he does. There are flashier forwards who make jaws drop and autograph-seekers swoon, but there are few who can hold a candle to Wheeler’s body of work since he was acquired by the Jets in one of the most lopsided trades of the last decade.

Peter Chiarelli, Boston’s general manager at the time, sent Wheeler and Mark Stuart to the Jets for Rich Peverley and Boris Valabik. Peverley scored 67 points in three seasons with the Bruins – three more than Wheeler scored in his first year with the Jets. And Wheeler has only improved in the years that have followed.

Another reason that hockey fans should take notice of Wheeler’s abilities, even if the mainstream media doesn’t: He has always been good, and he’s always getting better.

Since Wheeler entered the NHL for the 2008-09 season, only 25 players have notched more points than him. The Minnesota native has put up 514 points and averaged 0.74 points per game in 697 career games with the Bruins and Jets.

On a points per game basis, considering only players who have played at least 500 games in that same span, Wheeler has outscored Patrice Bergeron, Jakub Voracek, Brad Marchand, T.J. Oshie, Milan Lucic and – the list goes on for quite a while, so we’ll spare some time and just ask the question.

Why does nobody seem to realize how excellent Wheeler is?

If we carve up a smaller sample size, the numbers look even better. In the last four seasons, Wheeler ranks 13th in the NHL with 0.87 points per game, placing him ahead of Nikita Kucherov, Toews, Ryan Johansen, Jeff Carter and many other NHL standouts.

Statistically speaking, lesser players have become Hall of Famers.

And it gets even more impressive at 5-on-5. In the last four NHL seasons, there are only four players who have scored more points than Wheeler at even strength. Those players? Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane, Jamie Benn and Ryan Getzlaf.

Those simple counting stats tell a story about the quality of Wheeler’s offensive capabilities, but there’s more to his game than points. He led the Jets in 5-on-5 CF% last season (54.87) and had the second-lowest GA/60 among Jets forwards (2.58). Those numbers suggest that he is a driver of possession and a very solid two-way player.

There isn’t much that Wheeler doesn’t do well. He’s physical. He’s fast. He’s a mountain of a man. He has a great shot and he uses it intelligently to generate rebounds for his linemates. He’s also one heck of a passer.

And that’s why you should care that Blake Wheeler is virtually unknown when compared with most other players with similar stats. Because he’s one of the best forwards in the NHL and he has been for years, and people on Twitter will throw shade your way if you don’t know that.

As for Wheeler, he seems to be just fine with being underrated. It’s all just noise, anyway.

Not making the playoffs in five of the last six seasons? Now that’s another story entirely.

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