Wheeler, who leads the team in scoring with 57 points, was asked where he thinks the club is at in building a contender.
“I’m not pleased with where we’re at this season in particular, obviously,” said Wheeler, who may be the team’s next captain. “I think I’ve made that very clear, but I’m not approaching it like the sky is falling. I’m still hopeful. I’ve got three years left here, I signed here to win, so that’s my focus.”
Winnipeg is second-last in the NHL Western Conference, only three points ahead of the Oilers. The Jets host the Florida Panthers on Tuesday in the first game of a five-game homestand.
The Jets clawed their way into the playoffs last year with 99 points, the first post-season appearance since moving to Winnipeg in 2011. Even though they were swept in the first round by the Anaheim Ducks, fans hoped the momentum would carry over.
General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said after the deadline passed that the marketplace isn’t one of simple deals, but rather situations that have ripple affects on future contracts and rosters.
And he again stressed his draft-and-develop approach as a way to build a Stanley Cup contender.
“You don’t do it through free agency, you don’t do it through trade-deadline acquisitions when you’re in a situation like we are in right now,” Cheveldayoff said. “There really is only several ways to do it, and the tried-and-true method is through the draft.”
Head coach Paul Maurice said his focus is fitting together the pieces he has, and noted the Jets are one of the league’s youngest rosters.
“There’s two sides of draft and develop,” Maurice said. “A lot of them have already been drafted so now it’s the other piece – you’ve got to get them games and they’ve (got) to play.”
Mistakes will be made, but they need experience to get better, he added.
“We’re going to see an awful lot of these players are going to be Winnipeg Jets for an awful long time,” Maurice said. “And some of them are probably in the (NHL) early in their career and you pay a little bit of a price in the short term in terms of experience in your lineup, but you get that back when they get that experience.”
Nine players with three or fewer NHL seasons on their resumes have each played 20 or more games this season. Rookie forward Nikolaj Ehlers has shone with 13 goals and 30 points in 61 games.
“I think there’s a lot of be excited about,” Wheeler said. “I think we have some guys that have made some big strides this year, some guys that have stepped into our lineup who you weren’t really sure if they were going to get an opportunity this year and have come a long way.”