So the interesting story of the week was that the 5th pick of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft Blake Wheeler declined to sign with the Phoenix Coyotes and decided to become an Unrestricted Free Agent. On the surface it appears that the Rangers should try to sign Wheeler given his draft status.
We do not believe for a second that the Rangers are even on Wheeler's list of teams he wants to sign with but if they were we would say pass on Wheeler. The rumor sheets are saying that Wheeler wants to sign with his home state Minnesota Wild but we are not so sure but that is for later in this article.
Normally we would be just as quick to yell for the Rangers to sign a 6'4 219 lb center like Wheeler is but we think Wheeler is not worth the kind of money he is going to want. Yes we know that Wheeler turned down a better contract offer from the Coyotes but there is a lot more to this than anyone knows.
For starters, when the Coyotes selected Wheeler with the number 5 pick, it was way before where Wheeler should have been selected in the first place. If one goes back to the various draft boards during that time then you will see that Wheeler was not expected to go until the middle of the first round (CSB ranked him 17th).
That being said for the Rangers, Wheeler is not what they need, yes he has size which is an area where the Rangers could use some help up front with. Yes he has some potential to become a player but the problem we are have is that one can not get a good read as to where or how Wheeler will develop.
We dislike trashing prospects because they are chasing their dream of becoming an NHL player and this has nothing to do with his decision to not sign with the Coyotes. It is interesting to see how so many are trashing Wheeler for what he is doing but not us as we actually like what he is doing here.
For us Wheeler and his representatives have read the CBA and discovered a loophole that they are taking advantage of. The NHL and NHLPA have decided to set how much a rookie can make, they have decided where a rookie will play (the draft) and they have decided whether or not he can go to the AHL, the CHL or anywhere.
Wheeler is saying "No I want a say in where I play" so while we do not want to see the Rangers sign him we applaud what he is doing here. We hope that it sends a message to the NHL and NHLPA to fix the CBA so it is fair even for the prospects.
But we are getting away from our point which is why Wheeler is not ideal for the Rangers. It starts with the original decision to leave school and forgo his senior season at Minnesota. Don Maloney when explaining why Wheeler turned down the Coyotes put the blame on Wheeler receiving bad advice.
We agree as leaving school early for Wheeler is a bad move because Wheeler still needs a lot of work before turning pro. We have seen it happen way too many times someone tells a prospect how great he is but does not take into account the level of development a prospect needs to advance.
All Ranger fans need to do is look at 2 very recent first round picks to see that theory in action. Both Al Montoya and Hugh Jessiman both left school a year early and as we can see how far their NHL careers have taken them right? We saw what happened to Manny Malholtra who the Rangers kept with them when another year in the OHL would have helped his development.
Wheeler needs a lot of work just for his development and we start with his lack of agility as Wheeler could be called "The Accidental Diver" as he falls way too much for a player of his reported skill set.
Wheeler either needs to change his entire skating style or he is one heck of an actor. In either case when a player has to change what he has been doing his entire career then it hurts his development. We could see something like this causing Wheeler to spend at least 2 years in the AHL trying to catch up.
The next issue we have is a matter of physical toughness as unlike what people may believe it is not as easy to teach a finesse player how to transform himself into a physical player. You either have it or you do not. We do not think Wheeler has it and the Rangers do not need a soft giant.
The Rangers need someone who is ready made tough, someone who will put himself in traffic in order to make a play. Yes Wheeler has made some pretty plays but those are few and far in between.
As for where we see Wheeler developing is that we do not see Wheeler as becoming anything more than a large sized 3rd liner. Wheeler is one that few are sure if he will be a center (current position) or be shifted to the wing.
In our eyes we are not seeing Wheeler developing into a Top 6 forward which is what one expects out of a first round pick. Anything less and one has to call the prospect a "bust". Since we did not think Wheeler was worthy of where he was picked then we will not call him that.
The problem though is that the Rangers already have plenty of prospects who can fill the role of 3rd liner so why use one of the fifty contracts on one you are going to have to overpay for? The Rangers need to use both their salary cap and their contracts very wisely so while this will be unpopular this is one gamble the Rangers can not take.
We also do not like the progression that Wheeler showed while at Minnesota as it was not where one would expect for a player who has his own high hopes. We will give Wheeler some slack since his Minnesota hockey team lost players to injuries and pro defections.
We subscribe to the belief that before a player should move up a level that he needs to dominate the level where he is at. We have not seen any signs of that during his time at Minnesota so again we would say we would prefer the Rangers pass on Wheeler.
For a prospect who is supposed to be so talented how come Wheeler only made Team USA's World Junior Team once? Are we wrong to think that a prospect taken in the first round should be one of the best young players for their nation?
That bothers us as well as wondering about Wheeler's mental toughness which is a byproduct of his decision to leave school early. Sure we can applaud that Wheeler is a UFA but we still have to wonder what rush was Wheeler in to turn pro now?
Was it concern about injury? Perhaps he was worried that his career would suffer if Minnesota had a bad season? While we can credit him for turning down money at the same time Wheeler has opened himself up for a lot of questions here?
The "experts" are split down the middle about what Wheeler is doing here but those who think he made a mistake are letting Wheeler have it with all weapons. Wheeler is being called selfish for wanting to play where he wanted to, insecure for not being willing to play with the young talent that the Coyotes do have as some think Wheeler would not measure up to prospects like Kyle Turris and Peter Mueller.
We have our doubts that Wheeler will be able handle being the target in both the media and on the ice. Not to mention how so many in his own home state will expect a ton out of Wheeler should he sign with the hometown Wild.
In many ways the expectations of the Wild fans will be even harsher than anything Ranger fans could think of. We have serious doubts about living up to those expectations.
In a way we think Wheeler has set himself up for failure as no matter which team signs Wheeler the expectations are going to be way him from team, fans and even Wheeler himself.
When you boil everything down then we see Wheeler as a soft, weak skating over hyped prospect who really unless his defense is very good had best be a scoring wizard otherwise his stay in the NHL just might not be very long.
For his sake we hope we are wrong but at the same time we simply do not think the Rangers are in a position to gamble on Wheeler anyway. Let others take the risk as the Rangers if they want someone with size among the prospects then there will be those who will be rated just as high as Wheeler was during his draft season.
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