“For me, this is obviously a huge honor,” Wheeler said. “I got to learn a lot from Andrew Ladd the last five years in Winnipeg. To see what it looks like every day to be the leader of the team, especially in a market like Winnipeg, is a pretty special honor, an honor I know he took with a lot of pride and I look forward to carrying the torch for him.”
Center Mark Scheifele and defenseman Dustin Byfuglien will serve as alternate captains.
“I really look forward to being the leader of this team,” Wheeler said. “But it’s not just going to be us three. We have a great group of men in our room, so this is going to be a joint obligation for everyone. Everyone is going to share in this responsibility.”
Selected by the Phoenix Coyotes with the No. 5 pick in the 2004 NHL Draft, Wheeler broke into the NHL with the Boston Bruins in 2008-09 and had 45 points (21 goals, 24 assists) in 81 games as a rookie. He led the Jets and set an NHL career-high with 78 points (26 goals, 52 assists) last season, and has 440 points (173 goals, 267 assists) in 615 NHL games with the Bruins, Atlanta Thrashers and Jets.
“When we think about leaders and what we ask of them, at the very top of the list is we want them to lead by example,” Maurice told the Jets website. “For Blake, in my time here but also over the course of his career, rarely do you run by a player who is able to play that hard, that consistently, every night. In order to do that, he practices like that. In terms of what we want our young players to, what do we want our fans to see, and how we want the players around Blake, where we want their eyes, is on his effort level, his compete, every shift, every game, every practice.
“We really think that he’s unique in that. There’s very few players that can drive themselves as hard as Blake can and we think he’s a spectacular leader by example in our room.”
Wheeler and Byfuglien will play for Team USA at the World Cup of Hockey 2016. The eight-team tournament will take place at Air Canada Centre in Toronto beginning Sept. 17.
Scheifele, 23, agreed to terms on an eight-year, $49 million contract (average annual value $6.125 million) with the Jets on July 8. He had NHL career-highs of 29 goals and a plus-16 rating last season.
“Mark is a very, very bright man, a very quick learner and already been studying the art of leadership,” Maurice said. “He asked those questions from different captains and people that he knows. We expect that, even though he’s a very young man, will step into that role.
“The pressure that’s coming is there with or without the ‘A’. When you become a driver on a team, when your minutes go up to the point you affect the outcome day in and day out, we believe he can handle it. We know we can. Mark’s a really good candidate now and in the future.”
Byfuglien, 31, enters his seventh season with the Thrashers/Jets franchise, and had 53 points (19 goals, 34 assists) last season. He played the first five years of his NHL career with the Chicago Blackhawks, winning the Stanley Cup in 2010.
“Dustin Byfuglien is such a presence on and off the ice,” Maurice said. “Anytime there’s kids around the room he puts a smile on all their faces. So we really have good men that understand that it’s important to reach out and be a part of it. These guys are committed to the Winnipeg Jets and committed to the style of play that we want to play. That leadership from them certainly trickles right through the room.”