The 2023/24 NHL season has started off strong for the New York Rangers as they currently lead the Metropolitan Division with a record of 10-2-1. The offseason had notable additions to the roster that have succeeded so far, like Erik Gustafsson and Jonathan Quick. However, there has been one signing that has been the most disappointing this season: Blake Wheeler.
Blake Wheeler has clearly declined
Wheeler was brought in as a gamble, considering he was going to be 37 years old, but the Rangers decided to sign him to a one-year contract worth 1.1 million (with a cap hit of 800,000). So far, that gamble has not paid off, as Wheeler has clearly regressed from the player he was with the Winnipeg Jets/Atlanta Thrashers and Boston Bruins.
In the past 13 games, he has only recorded two points. While he did score one goal, he has largely been a non-impact player in most games. His speed has decreased, which is never a good thing in the new NHL, where teams focus on building speed. Speed and good skating are crucial, as seen with the success of teams like the Vegas Golden Knights, who quickly found success coming into the league and winning the Stanley Cup last season. Wheeler has struggled with both.
Even his offensive playmaking ability has not been great. He has made some bad shots and missed opportunities to make an impact on the ice. It has not been a pretty beginning of the season for Wheeler. Fortunately for Wheeler, the coaching staff has not given up on him.
- Rangers: 3 players who stood out in the 5–1 loss against the Buffalo Sabres
- Rangers: Jacob Trouba apologizes, explains high-stick incident
- Rangers: Adam Fox almost nearing return from LTIR
The Head Scratching Decision from Rangers Coaching
With the injuries to both Adam Fox and Filip Chytil, the Rangers had to make some adjustments to their lines. The most notable change that the Blueshirts made was demoting Kaapo Kakko to the third line and promoting Wheeler to the first line.
When this was announced, many were scratching their heads. While Kakko has not been the greatest player for the Blueshirts this year, he has contributed more than Wheeler has this season and has shown improvement with the change in coaching.
Maybe the coaching staff felt Wheeler’s experience in the first line would make him a better fit with Chytil injured, or they felt more confident in Wheeler. Time will tell.
Wheeler’s latest performance could be a turning point
Now on a positive note, Wheeler did finally score a goal in the Rangers’ latest game against the Minnesota Wild. When he scored, it was telling how excited and happy he and the team were when he finally scored a goal.
That showed that the locker room likes him and has gladly accepted him into their culture of the locker room. Hopefully, that goal boosts his confidence and he finishes strong this season for the Blueshirts. But as of now, the signing of Blake Wheeler has been the most disappointing acquisition this season.