Early in training camp, Blake Wheeler already feels ‘at home’ with Rangers

Winnipeg Jets forward Blake Wheeler (26) takes a shot on goal against the Minnesota Wild during the third period at at Xcel Energy Center

The Rangers may not have been shopping at the top of the market in free agency this offseason, but they were still able to add numerous reliable veteran depth pieces to new head coach Peter Laviolette’s roster.

Among the additions this winter was veteran winger Blake Wheeler.

In what may end up going down as one of the biggest bargains of the offseason, New York added the former first-round pick on a one-year deal worth just $800,000 after he was bought out of his contract with the Winnipeg Jets.

Wheeler showed up a little over a month ago to start to get to know some of his new teammates, so now heading into training camp and preseason action, he already feels like one of the guys.

“Showing up when I did I got to meet a lot of these guys and get that out of the way,” Wheeler said. “At this point, it just feels part of the team. It feels like it’s been a lot longer than just a month, I feel at home.

“I’m excited to get going with these guys.”

While his exact role for the regular season is still to be determined, Wheeler spent the first day of practice working alongside stars Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad on New York’s top line.

No matter where Laviolette decides to use him, the 36-year-old should be a steady addition.

Wheeler remains a relatively consistent and reliable point producer from the right side. He’s coming off a year in which he put up 16 goals and 39 assists for a total of 55 points across 72 games for the Jets.

Wheeler, who plays with a bit of an edge and can get to the city areas, has seven seasons of 20-plus goals and a pair of 91-point seasons under his belt. Now in New York on a cheap deal, he’s out to prove that he has something left in the tank.

“I know that I’m still capable of playing a big role and playing big minutes. I can still play at a high level and play with good players,” he said. “If I come in in good shape and be ready to roll from day one, hopefully, it’s an opportunity I can earn.”