Wheeler back in the saddle

Blake Wheeler is one tough customer, and the Winnipeg Jets captain proved it once again Friday night, taking his familiar spot in the lineup despite exiting the previous game with an injury.

The fact Wheeler couldn’t make it past the first period of Wednesday’s 3-1 loss to Toronto was reason enough for concern. After all, the veteran routinely plays through pain, but he was able to shake off whatever is ailing him — the club offered no specifics — for the rematch against the Maple Leafs.

“Wheels is a warrior. Battles through a lot. You know, if he can play, he’ll play,” forward Mason Appleton said prior to puck drop.

Jansen Harkins, who hasn’t suited up since Feb. 19, was on stand-by and even took the pre-game warm-up in case Wheeler couldn’t go, but his services once again weren’t required as coach Paul Maurice used the same 18 skaters for a 13th straight game.

It also meant Wheeler was playing his 193rd straight game, and 436th of the team’s last 437. The only one missed in that span was as a healthy scratch near the end of the 2017-18 season in order to rest up for the playoffs.

“It’s great he was able to come back and he’s feeling well. That’s part of being a great pro, taking care of your body and being available to play every single game. You can’t be effective if you’re not out there, so that’s one of the reasons why he’s been so great, he’s durable. It’s something you want as a captain, it’s great leadership,” said forward Kyle Connor.

Wheeler is currently on the second line with Pierre-Luc Dubois and Paul Stastny. If he was out, Andrew Copp likely would have moved up to play on the line.

“He’s the heart of our team. And I didn’t realize it, I guess, until I got here but he’s for sure one of the tougher guys I’ve played with. I mean, to see the stuff that he’s battled through, to see the minimal games that he’s missed throughout his career and then finally getting to play with him, I see why now and how tough he is,” said defenceman Neal Pionk.

The injury news wasn’t so good on another front. Nathan Beaulieu has been shut down for the rest of the year after undergoing surgery on Thursday for a torn labrum. The 28-year-old was knocked out of the Jets lineup on March 9 after blocking a shot, which resulted in a broken hand. Beaulieu had actually been playing through the shoulder injury.

“That injury in his shoulder had deteriorated. With those injuries, unless it’s a catastrophic tear, there is always rehab or repair. There is always a discussion – what’s the best way to do it? It deteriorated to the point where he got a broken bone, this thing is not feeling better, it’s got to get done to give him a chance to be 100 per cent healthy and be a player next year,”

It’s just the latest blow for Beaulieu, who suffered three different bone breaks from blocking shots last season.

“Three broken bones last year, another one this year, the shoulder, scratching and clawing to kind of be a player for us. He’s a really important part of that room because of it. The people that invest a lot, that give a lot to their teammates, are always the ones that you, it’s so painful when they go down,” said Maurice.

“But once we kind of knew what he was dealing with, the next question is can we make it right, can we get him back to where he’s, you hope. He had good surgery, so that brings some positivity into it. Those things are tough rehabs and they take a long time, but we believe that when he’s done he’s going to be back, and he deserves that right. The one thing we know about Beau is he’s not going to milk it. He’s going to be back the day he’s supposed to be back and ready to play, for sure.”

Beaulieu is under contract for one more season at US $1.25 million.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

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