WILMINGTON, Mass. — Blake Wheeler has enjoyed plenty of success skating with David Krejci and even seen some time with Marc Savard during his first two years in the league. So the third-year winger knows a little about playing with talented centers.
But skating beside Patrice Bergeron for the first two games of the season in Prague was still an eye-opener for Wheeler.
"He's so strong on the puck," marveled Wheeler. "It just makes it really exciting to play with him. You just know that rarely is the puck going to come off his stick, and when you have possession in the offensive zone, a lot of good stuff is going to happen. So it's exciting to have him [on your line]. He opens up a lot of the ice for you. You're out there just trying to find open lanes so he can find you because he's so talented."
It didn't take long for Wheeler and Bergeron, who signed a three-year, $15-million extension just before the start of the season, to forge some chemistry, with Bergeron setting Wheeler up for plenty of chances in the first two games.
"That's what he's so good at," said Wheeler. "He wins every puck battle in the corners. If you just get open for him somewhere in the slot, he's going to find your stick."
Of course, Wheeler knows he could be reunited with his old setup man at any time, so he made sure his praise of Bergeron didn't come at the expense of Krejci, who he sees possessing many of the same qualities.
"To be honest, they're almost one in the same," said Wheeler. "They see the game the same way. Maybe Bergie is more of a power center if you can call it that, where Krejci is more of a dangler. But they both distribute the puck extremely well. They both do a great job bringing the puck up the ice and if you're open, you're going to get the puck. It's a lot of fun to play with guys like that because you always know if you're in a good spot, they're going to find you and you'll get a lot of opportunities to score."
Wheeler himself is making a concerted effort to try to take full advantage of those chances this year. Despite scoring 39 goals in his first two pro seasons, he recognizes that he needs to put more pucks on net if he's going to put more of them in the net.
"I think I've had a pass-first mentality," admitted Wheeler. "I think you get into certain spots where you should be thinking shot and my first instinct was to look for the next open guy. … I'm looking to shoot a lot more. I'm looking to get into spots to shoot a lot more. If you do that, if you're shooting more, you're probably going to score more goals. I guess that's the mentality I need."
So far, Wheeler has been doing a better job of firing away. He has seven shots through two games, including five in the opener on Saturday. Those efforts didn't produce any points, but those should come if he continues to pile up shots. And with Bergeron feeding him the puck, he should have plenty of chances to do that.