Wheeling and Dealing
A surprise pick makes Minnesota recruit the first collegian
– Blake Wheeler knows where he'll be playing hockey in the
fall of 2005, thanks to a verbal commitment to the University
of Minnesota. After the Phoenix Coyotes stunning move to take
him fifth overall in the NHL Entry Draft, he knows where he'll
begin his pro career as well.
doesn't know yet is where he'll spend his senior year of high
school. The big right wing doesn't need a fortune teller; he needs
a present teller.
Wheeler had 100 points for Breck School this season. "He's
a 6-foot-4 player who scored 100 points last year," one
scout said. "You can say what you want about the level
of competition, but not many players can do that."
big smile and a bandage on his chin, courtesy of an elbow in a
recent pick-up game, Wheeler was clearly content to put off deciding
where he'll play this year for another day. He was as surprised
as anyone to be the first American and first collegian to be taken
in the draft.
[the Coyotes] were interviewing me, the feeling I got was that
they were going to try to take me in the second round –
and that would have been great," Wheeler said. "I couldn't
have ever dreamt this."
It's the second
straight year that a Gopher (or future Gopher) was the first college
player taken in the NHL Draft. Thomas Vanek held that spot last
season, also at No. 5 overall.
among North American skaters by the Central Scouting Service,
most experts expected Wheeler to be taken late in the first round
or early in the second. But Coyotes managing partner Wayne Gretzky
felt confident that his team got their guy.
felt that this young man has tremendous upside," Gretzky
said. "He's a tremendous athlete. We were very comfortable
with picking him at number five. We kind of took a bit of a risk,
but we believe he has tremendous upside."
weren't so sure that taking Wheeler in the fifth spot –
instead of possibly trading down and getting him later –
was a good move by the Coyotes.
floored," one NHL scout said. "Who knows, in five years
he may be a great player and they might look like geniuses for
taking him at five. But you had to think he would be available
15 spots later. That's what amazed us."
meanwhile, will have to wait another year before Wheeler takes
the ice with the Gophers. He's entering his senior year of high
school, and could return to the Breck School to defend the team's
state championship. He has also been drafted by the USHL's Green Bay Gamblers, and joining the USHL remains a possibility.
happy to enjoy the moment, and not worry too much about what lies
ahead. For someone who hasn't even taken the SAT or ACT yet, the
future can seem a ways away.
will be some talk with the organization, I'm sure," he said.
"My future will be planned out pretty quickly."
more inclined to let the future Gopher take his time.
he's a few years away from playing in the NHL," he said.
"He's just finished grade 11, he's 17 years old. It's not
a race now to get to the Phoenix Coyotes. Let's let him finish
at least grade 12, and we'll go from there."