Blake Wheeler had 17 points (seven goals, 10 assists) in 23 games with the Thrashers after being acquired from Boston on Feb. 18, playing right wing on the team’s top line. In 81 games with both teams he had 18 goals and a career-high 26 assists.
Wheeler is a restricted free agent and general manager Rick Dudley said following the season he would like to work out a long-term deal. Wheeler will compete for the U.S. at the World Championships.
In the next of a series of interviews with Thrashers players following the 2010-11 season, here is some of what Wheeler had to say about his time in Atlanta and the future of the team.
Q. How did you think the season went for you personally after arriving in the trade and how did you think you fit in?
A. I think since the trade I was pleased with the opportunity I was given here. It was great and exciting. I think I did as well as I could with it. It makes it really exciting for me going into the offseason knowing what to expect next year. I expect to bring even more to the table than I did this year.
Q. You were pleased with the expanded role and how you performed in it?
A. Yes, there is no doubt. Looking at it strictly numbers-wise, before and after the trade, I almost matched my production in Boston in the short period of time here. That’s something I can definitely build on.
Q. How disappointing is it and how will you deal with the fact that you left Boston and they are in the playoffs and you are here starting an early summer?
A. It is disappointing. It’s not what you want to do. You want to be involved in the tournament because every year it seems like a six, seven or eight seed are making it to the Eastern finals, even the Stanley Cup finals. As long as you put yourself in the position to compete in the playoffs you give yourself a chance to achieve the ultimate goal. I think everyone knows this team is right there. We have a lot of the pieces in place. Right from the start you have to have the mindset that anything less in unacceptable.
Q. Do think there are lessons about winning that you and Mark Stuart might have passed on after your arrival?
A. It’s all an attitude, a mentality. You expect to win every night. Coming from Boston, that was our expectation every night. If we are having a tough night, things aren’t going our way, you have to find a way to get it done. Waiting for the next game to come around isn’t acceptable. You have to keep in mind too, that there are a lot of young faces on this team with a lot of talent. That is a really positive thing. If some of the older veteran guys can keep sharing some of their wisdom with these guys the learning curve is going to go down and you are going to start to see some really good hockey players out there.
Q. You go into the summer as a restricted free agent. What do you expect or hope happens?
A. I learned the game last summer. I went all the way to the end with arbitration. I definitely learned that patience is a virtue. I had a few phone calls last summer, ‘What’s going on? Why isn’t anything happening?’ You learn pretty quickly that the process takes care of itself. That’s not up to me. I’m not involved in any negotiations. I let the agent to all that and when ever it comes, it comes.
The series will continue over the next couple of weeks. Coming Friday, Nik Antropov.