Blake Wheeler was originally drafted by the Phoenix Coyotes in 2004, and after a solid career at the University of Minnesota he spent his first two NHL seasons with the Boston Bruins (2008-2009 and 2009-2010). As a rookie he was named MVP of the league’s YoungStars Game during All-Star Weekend, after scoring four goals, and he finished that regular season second in the league in plus-minus (+36).
Wheeler was born in Robbinsdale, Minnesota, led his high school team at Breck to a Class-A state title as a junior, then spent a season with the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League before landing at Minnesota as a freshman for the 2005-2006 season. The Gophers were unable to recapture their national title glory from 2002 and 2003 while Wheeler was in school, but he was named MVP of the 2007 WCHA Final Five after a hat-trick in a semi-final game against Wisconsin and a game-winning goal in overtime against North Dakota in the championship game.
Wheeler was traded to the Atlanta Thrashers in February of 2011, and he led the team in scoring with a career-high 64 points (17 goals, 47 assists) during the 2011-2012 season after the franchise relocated and became the Winnipeg Jets. Wheeler is the Jets’ leading goal scorer so far this season with 22, and he is tied for the team lead with 46 points in 58 games played.
This will be Wheeler’s first Olympics, but he has international tournament experience as both a junior player (2006 World Juniors) as well as during his pro career (2011 IIHF World Championships), so playing on a world stage should not be too big for him. The bigger question is his ultimate role for the United States, with 14 forwards on the roster and one potentially not in uniform for each game. But if Wheeler gets a chance to play key minutes for his country, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him score a game-winning goal or two in Sochi.