Blake Wheeler, the highly-sought winger from the University of Minnesota, has advised his agent to finalize terms of a contract with the Bruins, a two-year deal that won’t be made official until July 1, in keeping with NHL bylaws that govern the movement and signing of unrestricted free agents.
“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 Boston 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 email, wrote that he was pleased that Wheelers chose the Bruins. “Of course, ‘’ added Chiarelli, “we can’t sign him until July 1, but we look forward to getting him in the mix. Any time you can get a young player of Blake’s caliber with that blend of size and skill, you are very fortunate.’’
Wheeler, 21 years old and 6 feet 4 inches, 220 pounds, was drafted No. 5 overall by the Coyotes in 2004 and 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 that he would turn pro and intended to exercise the right to be a free agent if he could not come to contract terms with the Coyotes.
Only in rare instances do college players become free agents. But Wheeler, because he played a year of junior hockey before joining UMinn, was eligible to exercise his right to become UFA prior to July 1, because four years had lapsed since his draft day. Once officially a free agent as of June 8, he began to field bids from around the league, and just last week cut down to four teams — believed to be the Bruins, Canadiens, Rangers, and either the Devils or Wild.
Finally, early this afternoon, Wheeler finalized his choice.
“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 (AHL). 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 each season. It’s likely Wheeler will attend the club’s prospect camp in Wilmington, July 8-12.