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Fantasy hockey: Don’t undervalue Blake Wheeler

(Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire)

In the 2015-16 NHL season there were only 24 players who were more valuable than Blake Wheeler in standard fantasy hockey scoring categories. Playing for a small market team has perhaps kept Wheeler off of the radar for many fantasy managers despite the fact that he has been one of the most consistent offensive producers in the NHL over the last few years.

In the last three fantasy seasons, he has been a top-25 fantasy player at a position where there are few dominant options. Despite being the 19th-best player in fantasy hockey in 2014-15, Wheeler received little respect when it came to his projected statistics and value for the 2015-16 season. Yahoo!’s fantasy experts ranked Wheeler 62nd before the season began and ESPN’s ranked him 73rd. This might help explain why he was drafted as late as he was in most leagues.

According to fantasypros.com, Wheeler was the 61st average pick in Yahoo! league drafts, 81st in ESPN drafts, and 67th in CBS drafts- making him about the 70th average player selected in drafts back in the fall. Several big name players who were destined to disappoint went well before Wheeler as they have done for years. Clearly, the Jets’ top right wing is among fantasy hockey’s most underrated options.

There were less than 10 right wings who put up better fantasy numbers than Wheeler did last season on the Jets’ top line. Wheeler scored 78 points in 82 games, only 21 of which were scored during special teams play. He might not have the power-play production that makes so many forwards “can’t-miss” players on draft day, but what he does at even strength makes him one of fantasy’s elite wings.

Wheeler’s greatest asset to his fantasy managers is his relentless shooting rate. Among right wing-eligible skaters only Brent Burns, Patrick Kane and Phil Kessel were on the ice for more even strength shots for their teams last season. Over the last two seasons, Wheeler has put 500 total shots on goal for the Jets while putting up back-to-back 26-goal seasons. If you believe that a high shooting rate is correlated to offensive production–which you should–this is a player you want on your short list when planning your draft-day strategy.

It isn’t just about getting pucks to the net for Wheeler. After scoring 61 points in 2014-15, he finished tied for fifth in the league in scoring with 78 points this past season. There were notable drops in both his total penalty minutes and his plus-minus rating over the past two years, but that wasn’t enough to drag the forward out of fantasy’s elite.

What is most impressive about Wheeler’s 2015-16 season is that he set a career-high in assists and points despite losing his first-line center Bryan Little for the last 25 games of the season. He also lost regular linemate Andrew Ladd in a trade that sent the Jets’ captain to the Blackhawks. In the last 25 games of the season, Wheeler played on a retooled first line in Winnipeg with breakout fantasy forward Mark Scheifele and Nikolaj Ehlers. He scored 24 points with the talented, young forwards including an 11-game point scoring streak to close the season where he scored 16 points.

He will be turning 30 in August, which means he should still have a few more years of elite fantasy production ahead of him. You will be hard-pressed to find a right wing that has been as consistently outstanding in fantasy hockey as Wheeler has over the past three or four years. Don’t let him slip away on draft day.

Fantasy hockey: Don’t undervalue Blake Wheeler

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