Winnipeg Jets forward Blake Wheeler will return to the lineup Friday against the Tampa Bay Lightning after suffering a ruptured testicle last month.
Wheeler suffered the injury Dec. 15 when he was hit by a shot from Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey in a matchup against the Nashville Predators. He missed nine games with the ailment.
The 36-year-old was previously hit in the groin when he blocked a shot in Game 4 of Winnipeg's first-round sweep of the Edmonton Oilers in the 2021 postseason.
"I've got three beautiful kids, we're not having any more, so what the hell," he said at the time.
Wheeler's comments about his injury last month were a bit different. The Minnesota native finished the game against Nashville and told reporters Thursday he didn't realize he had ruptured a testicle.
"There's a difference between being hurt and being injured. I didn't know I was injured until the next day," he said.
Wheeler was having a solid season prior to the injury, notching nine goals and 17 assists for 26 points in 29 games. The Jets have gone 5-4-0 in his absence, improving to 24-13-1 on the season and sitting second in the Central Division behind the Dallas Stars.
Wheeler has been with the Jets organization since the Boston Bruins traded him and defenseman Mark Stuart to the then-Atlanta Thrashers in 2011 in exchange for Rich Peverley and Boris Valábik.
He has tallied 255 goals and 528 assists for 783 points in 854 games across 12-plus seasons with Winnipeg. He's under contract with the Jets through the 2023-24 season.
In addition to Wheeler, Nikolaj Ehlers, Cole Perfetti and Nate Schmidt are expected to return for the Jets on Friday. The return of all four players is a boost even though the team has found success without them this season.
Winnipeg enters Friday's game against Tampa Bay three points behind the Stars for first place in the division. The Jets also have two games in hand on Dallas.