Recently I received an e-mail asking someone to write about who they felt had the most to prove this season for the Boston Bruins.
After thinking it over, I felt there were two players with a lot to prove: Tim Thomas and Blake Wheeler.
Now most people probably are wondering why I was thinking about Thomas as being the Bruins player with the most to prove considering the amazing season he had last year. He did have by far his best season last year, but that is just one year. With the new contract he received, he has to show that he can continue his winning ways and earn himself a spot among this year's present-day goalie elite. In the end, though, I decided to go with Wheeler.
Wheeler was drafted by the Phoenix Coyotes fifth overall in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. He opted to go to school first, playing for the Minnesota Golden Gophers where he would play for three years, scoring the winning goal in the WCHA tournament final against North Dakota. Wheeler was also named an alternate captain for the Golden Gophers in his finally year at Minnesota, when he scored a total of 15 goals and had 20 assists.
After finishing at Minnesota, Wheeler was drafted by the Coyotes but could not come to an agreement on a contract. He instead decided to become an unrestricted free agent and was signed by the Boston Bruins on July 1, 2008. In Wheeler's first game, he scored a goal against the Colorado Avalanche and recorded his first-ever hat trick a month later against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Blake finished the year with 21 goals and 24 assists.
While he had a great first year, many people noticed that he seemed to wear down toward the end of the season. He ended up playing in 81 of the Bruins' 82 games.
He went on to play in eight of the team's 11 playoff games but was a healthy scratch in the other three. This was mostly due to the fact that he didn't seem to be able to handle a full NHL schedule just yet.
Coming into this year, Wheeler will look to improve on his stellar first season. He faces many questions, the biggest, of course, regarding whether he is prepared to play a full season.
Wheeler came into Bruins camp this year with more bulk, adding more muscle over the offseason, and in much better shape. He had been working very hard over the summer to get his stamina up so he could be more ready for the season ahead.
Another big question is how well will he play this year. Wheeler will be a free agent when this year is over, and his play will determine whether or not the Bruins will re-sign him. If he can produce like he did last year then the Bruins will most likely sign him to a long-term deal, making sure he stays in Boston for a long time.
My expectations for Wheeler are that he will produce as well as he did last season, if not better. He was able to show last year that he was ready to play at the NHL level aside from running into fatigue at the end of the year. Expect him to have a strong contribution to the offense this year and in the future for the Bruins.