Rangers’ Blake Wheeler Available to Play vs. Panthers After Serious Leg Injury

Rangers’ Blake Wheeler Available to Play vs. Panthers After Serious Leg Injury
Julia StumbaughMay 19, 2024

CHICAGO, IL - FEBRUARY 09: Blake Wheeler #17 of the New York Rangers skates with the puck during overtime against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on February 9, 2024 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

New York Rangers veteran forward Blake Wheeler, who has been sidelined since February with a serious leg injury, says he will be “available” for the Eastern Conference Finals, ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski reported.

“It’s going to be in the coach’s hands from there, but I’m ready in any capacity I can to help out,” Wheeler said after an optional skate Sunday, per Wyshynski.

Wheeler’s right leg bent back at an extreme angle during Feb. 15 game against the Montreal Canadiens. The injury led Rangers captain Jacob Trouba to say Wheeler had “maybe played his last hockey game.”

The 37-year-old rejoined Rangers practice in full capacity Monday and was activated from long-term injured reserve Thursday.

The Florida Panthers will take on the Rangers at 8 p.m. ET Wednesday during Game 1 at Madison Square Garden.

Rangers head coach Peter Laviolette said that Wheeler “is going to do everything he can to make himself a possibility” for Game 1, per Wyshynski.

Wheeler was skating on the Rangers’ top line alongside Mika Zibanejad prior to the injury. The veteran right wing had recorded nine goals and 12 assists for 21 points in 54 games.

It is not yet clear where Wheeler would slot in if he returns to the lineup.

Alexis Lafrenière and Kappo Kakko are clicking on the second and third lines, respectively, and the Rangers could be reluctant to expect Wheeler to lay heavy hits by assigning him a fourth-line role in his return from injury.

Speedy Jack Roslovic has established himself as the Rangers’ top right-winger in Wheeler’s absence, however, and has two goals and five assists for seven points so far this postseason.

Forward Filip Chytil, who has missed most of the postseason due to a concussion and illness, is also hoping to return for Game 1 of the ECF, according to Vincent Z. Mercogliano of the Rockland/Westchester Journal News.

Mercogliano classified Chytil, previously a third-line left winger, as “more likely to slot in than Wheeler.”

The additional depth is still good news for the Rangers, who have largely been leaning on 11 forwards with Matt Rempe and Jonny Brodzinski playing limited minutes in the 12th spot.

Wheeler was originally drafted by the Phoenix Coyotes as the No. 5 pick of the 2004 draft. He joined the Rangers on a one-year contract as a free agent last July after 12 seasons with the Winnipeg Jets.

His return to Rangers practice comes as good news to a team that Wyshynski originally reported was shaken by the gruesome injury that sidelined the veteran in February.

The Rangers will now hope to ride the momentum of Wheeler’s return into a trip to the Stanley Cup Final.

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