Since Mark Scheifele went out with an injury in late December, the Winnipeg Jets have tried a bit of an experiment, using their best two-way forward in Blake Wheeler in the middle. Wheeler is one of the best wingers in the NHL; I had him ranked as the fourth-best right wing in hockey over the last three years before this season began, but moving to centre is a serious challenge. The extra defensive responsibility can force players who are inclined towards offence to struggle a little bit, but Wheeler is excellent without the puck, and one of the NHL’s better puck battlers. Moving from the wing to centre, you would expect that where Wheeler battles for loose pucks would change; he would be less inclined to forecheck, and much more involved defensively. Looking at the splits before and after Scheifele went down, we can check if this is actually the case. As expected, Wheeler has seen his forechecking drop a fair amount, while his involvement defensively is way up, as is his aggressiveness in the neutral zone. Wheeler has always been one of the Jets’ best forecheckers, it’s one of his biggest talents in generating offence, so this takes him a little outside his comfort zone offensively. Yet, since he was moved to the middle, Wheeler leads the Jets with 14 points in 14 games, and has even been respectable on faceoffs at 49 per cent. The question I have, is aside from a little less forechecking, has Wheeler’s offensive game changed since he was moved to the middle? While Wheeler wasn’t above team average in scoring chances while on the wing, one thing he was good at was staying open in the slot to receive passes, then shooting quickly. More of his shots on goal involved pre-shot movement than most of his teammates, making him a dangerous scorer.
Breaking down Blake Wheeler’s move to centre
Sportsnet | Feb 3