Winnipeg will be without its captain for the foreseeable future. On Wednesday, Blake Wheeler did not skate with the team in its practice prior to heading out on the road for a give-game eastern Canada road trip through Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto.
Jets head coach Paul Maurice addressed Wheeler’s absence following the skate.
“So, Blake’s not making the trip with us,” he offered post-practice. “He took the elbow last game, was fine, felt good, but started to feel a little off and then started not feeling great. The word is concussion but we don’t have a diagnosis on that, yet. But we’re going to treat it as it is because we’re obviously really careful with these things.”
Wheeler was on the receiving end of an elbow to the head from known agitator Brady Tkachuk in the Jets’ 4-3 home win on Monday evening. Despite still playing out the remainder of the game, he began experiencing concussion-like symptoms on Tuesday and things worsened by Wednesday morning.
— Michael Remis (@mremis) April 7, 2021
“So, we’re not bringing him,” Maurice added. “We don’t want him flying in and out until we know exactly what’s going to happen here. So, he’s out, I guess I’ll say indefinitely, until we get this cleared up.”
Unfortunately for the Jets, with their captain not on the team flight that headed eastbound following the skate at Bell MTS Place, it means he will most likely miss the entirety of the five-game set, unless they plan to send him on a private charter from Winnipeg once cleared. The NHL’s current COVID-19 protocols prohibits players from travelling on commercial flights without a full quarantine, so the captain appears to be headed for a five-game absence.
The usually ultra-dependable Wheeler has only missed one game since the 2014-15 season, and it was a way of resting himself prior to the team’s playoff run in 2018. Dating back 10 years, Wheeler has just missed five total games to injury, which would be doubled if he misses this entire road trip beginning on Thursday. Currently boasting 10 goals and 32 points in 39 games this season, Wheeler’s offence will certainly be missed.
#NHLJets captain Blake Wheeler will not travel east with the team as he deals with the aftermath of a Brady Tkachuk elbow to the head.
He has been placed in concussion protocol.
Kristian Vesalainen has been added to the taxi squad following his recall from the #MBMoose.
— Carter Brooks (@CBrooksie84) April 7, 2021
With the big 6-foot-5 winger listed as ‘out’ for now, the Jets’ forward groups saw some reshuffling on Wednesday, with long-serving scratch Jansen Harkins finally drawing back into the lineup. He skated alongside Nate Thompson and Trevor Lewis on the team’s new-look fourth line, while Mathieu Perreault moved up to skate with Adam Lowry and Mason Appleton.
The top line sees Mark Scheifele centring Kyle Connor and Nikolaj Ehlers, while Pierre-Luc Dubois skated between Paul Stastny and Andrew Copp, who received a promotion to the second line right-wing role.
Now set to play two games against each of the Canadiens and Senators before finishing off in Toronto with one game, Winnipeg will once again used to 6:00 PM central start times. Four of the five games on the current road trip can be found on TSN, while Saturday’s matchup against Montreal will be aired live on Sportsnet and CITY.