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Bruins set to sign up Wheeler

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / June 17, 2008

Blake Wheeler, the towering free agent winger from the University of Minnesota, advised his agent yesterday to finalize terms of a contract with the Bruins, a two-year deal that won't be made official until July 1.

"More than 20 NHL teams were interested in Blake, and this was a very tough decision," said Wellesley-based agent Matt Keator, who also represents Bruins captain Zdeno Chara. "And ultimately it came down to a few things for Blake, but mostly that he was comfortable with where the Bruins were headed as an organization - how this year they brought along kids like David Krejci, Milan Lucic, and Mark Stuart.

"They've done a good job of developing kids, and he wants to continue along that line."

Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli, reached via e-mail, wrote that he was pleased Wheeler chose the Bruins.

"Of course, we can't sign him until July 1," said Chiarelli, "but we look forward to getting him in the mix. Anytime you can get a young player of Blake's caliber with that blend of size and skill, you are very fortunate."

Wheeler, 21, is 6 feet 4 inches, 220 pounds, and was drafted No. 5 overall by the Coyotes in 2004. He long has been considered a potential power forward in the NHL. Just over a month ago, in the wake of his junior season with the Golden Gophers, he announced he would turn pro and intended to exercise his right to be a free agent if he could not come to terms with the Coyotes.

Just last week, Wheeler trimmed his list to four teams - believed to be the Bruins, Canadiens, Rangers, and either the Devils or Wild - and yesterday afternoon he finalized his choice when he met with Keator in Minnesota.

"This is a great opportunity," said Keator, adding that Wheeler won't be available to comment until July 1. "But everyone, including Blake, has to keep in mind that this will take some time - he'll have a lot of work to do to be able to play the man's game.

"He's going from originally playing center on an Olympic-sized sheet in college to playing wing in the NHL. It will take time. This isn't someone who is going to step in and play first line in the NHL. He may have to start in Providence.

"But he's excited, not only to get the chance, but to get that chance with Boston."

Wheeler, by NHL rules, must sign a two-year deal at no more than a guaranteed $875,000 per season. Bonuses could bring him in excess of $2 million total each season. It's likely Wheeler will attend the Bruins' prospect camp in Wilmington July 8-12.

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