There are more ways to improve the Minnesota Wild than signing Thomas Vanek, Ryan Miller, or Matt Niskanen this offseason. So, leading up to the draft, Hockey Wilderness is going to look at 15 potential trade candidates around the league for the Wild to target.
If there are three guys I didn't see coming this season, they were Nino, Granlund, and Erik Haula. Granlund was widely heralded coming into last season, and was a let down. This season he was who we thought he was. Haula and Nino, on the other hand, were very surprising (to me at least). Nino has a #sillyhard shot, as well as some legs, and Haula is the speediest guy on the ice (perhaps other than Kreider).
Blake Wheeler is a guy who combines some impressive speed with solid shooting. He also carries a big frame, and he knows how to use it. He is 6'5'', 205 lbs, and still in a good point in his career, being 27 years old. He was drafted by Phoenix in 2005 (1st round, 5th overall pick). He was not signed by Phoenix, however, and was signed by Boston, who later traded them to Winnipeg.
Maybe most importantly, he is ONE OF US, being born in Plymouth and raised in Robbinsdale. He later was a Gopher, earning 96 points in 155 games.
Under Wheeler's Hood
The Hockey News describes Wheeler as having "tremendous size and reach". They also note his affinity for scoring through traffic. Indeed, Wheeler has posted more than 1.5 points per game in all situations, at even strength, at 5v5, and at 5v5 close. The Hockey News's criticism is that he is defensively lax, doesn't use his size defensively, and goes through scoring slumps. The Wild are defensively solid, and can afford someone who isn't a stud. As far as scoring slumps go, ever single forward in the NHL goes through those. Example number one: Sidney Crosby this postseason.
Wheeler brings a lot of good things to his game: he's big and knows how to use his size offensively. He has a good shot, and generates points pretty consistently. Arctic Ice Hockey notes that Wheeler is stellar on both the power play as well as on the penalty kill, so he gives the Wild options on special teams as well.
Much like my honorable mention, Andrew Ladd, Wheeler exhibits an ability to score with wrist shots, snap shots, wrap arounds, tap ins, etc. He provides flexibility, which arms the Wild to face multiple opponents. He possess greater speed than Ladd, meaning he can where he needs to be when he needs to be there. Furthermore, Wheeler is naturally a right winger, a position the Wild are not especially deep at, only having 3 players on the roster who have played in the NHL.
The downsides to Wheeler are similar to Ladd as well, namely that he doesn't necessarily bring anything to the Wild that they don't already have. His tools all already exist within the Wild. Adding Wheeler is a depth move rather than a franchise-altering move.
Why Blake Would Leave The Jets
This will not likely be an easy trade to make. Wheeler (again like Ladd) has a modified no-trade clause in his contract, which runs till 2019 at 5.6 Million. This is not a massive cap hit, but nor is it insignificant. Wheeler is someone who could easily play on the Wild's top-2 lines.
Wheeler is part of Winnipeg's veteran core. He led the team in points two of the last three years. To give him up, the Wild are going to need to send someone with potential and picks to help the Jets' rebuilding process, or a piece which they don't have currently. As far as build, both Nino and Coyle are similar. Nino has more speed, and is maybe the most similar to Wheeler. For that reason, I would love to pair Nino and Wheeler together, but that is also why Winnipeg might most want Nino for Wheeler. Winnipeg would likely require something else to sweeten the deal; possibly a prospect or a pick.
As for why Blake himself would choose to waive his NTC, that should be obvious. Who doesn't want to come to Minnesota? In all seriousness, Blake was born and raised in the cities, as well as attending college there. A chance to play professional hockey in his hometown likely has allure. Furthermore, The Wild are far closer to challenging for a cup than Winnipeg. Wheeler is approaching 30, and his contact goes till he is 35, when players tend to drop off.
Why Do the Wild Want Wheeler?
As stated above: Wheeler does not necessarily bring something new to the Wild. What he does bring is experience and proven consistency. He produces regularly, and he knows how to be a leader. The Wild are in a great place to challenge for a cup in the next 2-3 years, and Wheeler provides them a player than needs no development, and there is no question about what he can or will be (as there is with Coyle, Nino, and Haula). While grabbing Wheeler may cost the Wild a piece or a pick, he also is ready to go right now and the Wild will not have to wait for him.
As for where Wheeler would fit: think of him as a fully-developed Nino Niederreiter. Personally, I like the Coyle-Koivu-Nino line, and I would also like a Coyle-Koivu-Wheeler line. Alternatively, a Parise-Koivu-Wheeler line could be scary, as would a Wheeler-Koivu-Nino line.
Something else Wheeler does for the Wild is free up someone who doesn't necessarily score full-out to play a shut-down winger role. Alternatively, Wheeler playing with Haula and McCormick could provide size and scoring punch to a third line.
In short, Wheeler adds a piece which allows the Wild to roll with 3 lines that can score. Wheeler takes some of the pressure of the Wild's current veterans, and allows Yeo to spread ice time amongst players more. There are certainly players who would help the Wild more, but Wheeler is a good player who can add a lot to the team Minnesota currently has.