Phoenix Coyotes: Blake Wheeler Opts For Free Agency

Henry DyckSenior Analyst IMay 30, 2008

The Phoenix Coyotes rebuilding project just took a major hit, after losing one of its more important pieces. Blake Wheeler has decided to try his luck in the free agency pool instead of accepting a contract officered from Coyotes GM, Don Maloney.

“We offered Blake a contract which was both commensurate with his draft position and far exceeded any guaranteed contract he can receive, under the current CBA, with any other team,” said Maloney. “He has decided, however, that becoming a free agent is in his best interest.

Phoenix caused a bit of a stir, when they selected the high school junior 5th overall in the 2004 Entry Draft. The 6'4", 220lb winger led all Minnesota high school players that year with 100 points. Blessed with size and blazing speed, Wheeler impressed Coyotes scouts with his offensive instincts and ability to handle the puck at top speeds.

It will be interesting to see what the young forward from Plymouth, MN can fetch on the open market. He has played for the University of Minnesota Gophers for the past three seasons, recording 42 goals and 96 points in 127 collegiate contests. Those numbers won't earn him an Ovechkin-type contract, but NHL GM's covet large forwards who can skate.

While Maloney obviously would have preferred to retain the services of Wheeler, Phoenix won't be left empty-handed with his departure. They will receive the 5th pick in the second round of this years draft as compensation. With five draft picks in the first two rounds of a deep draft pool, the Coyotes shouldn't be short of tools during their rebuilding period.