Rangers’ Blake Wheeler is out for the rest of the regular season because of injury, AP source says

Blake Wheeler’s regular season is over after injuring his right leg while falling to the ice, and it might take the New York Rangers going on a lengthy playoff run to open the door for a potential return this spring.

Wheeler was placed on long-term injured reserve Friday and is out for at least the rest of the NHL regular season, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team had not provided an update on Wheeler’s status.

The 37-year-old forward went down in pain with his right leg bending at an unnatural angle 11 minutes into New York’s game against Montreal on Thursday night. He was unable to put weight on that leg and needed help getting off the ice.

“Blake Wheeler is a warrior,” former Rangers goaltender-turned-broadcaster Stephen Valiquette said on social media. “Dude tried to stand up and skate off. Thoughts and prayers for a healthy recovery.”

It’s unlikely that Wheeler will be able to return in the playoffs, which begin April 22, but the Rangers are not ruling out that possibility depending on his recovery and how far they advance. The last possible day for the Stanley Cup Final is June 24.

Captain Jacob Trouba, who played six seasons with Wheeler with the Winnipeg Jets, said Friday it was an emotional time around the Rangers in light of the significant injury.

“He’s obviously going through something that no one wants to go through, so there’s more to it than just the impact on the team,” Trouba said. “I think we all care a lot about the hockey and our jobs, but we’re also humans and friends and have families outside of the rink. And I’m not saying this is true, but maybe he played his last hockey game.”

Wheeler has 21 points in 54 games in his first season with the team after being bought out of his previous contract last summer by Winnipeg. Coach Peter Laviolette said Wheeler’s presence has been positive since arriving.

“He was committed to being a part of this team and making it successful,” Laviolette said. “He did that, both in the room and on the ice. When you lose a veteran player like that with such an impact in the room, that’s tough to replace.”

The Rangers have won six in a row and are in first place in the Metropolitan Division. They next play outdoors at MetLife Stadium on Sunday against the rival New York Islanders in the second of back-to-back Stadium Series games at the home of the NFL’s Jets and Giants.

Matt Rempe, a 6-foot-7, 241-pound forward, looks on track to make his NHL debut in that game to fill Wheeler’s spot in the lineup. The 21-year-old would become the first player to play his first game in the league outside.

“He’s been instrumental for us,” defenseman Zac Jones said of Wheeler. “But we’ve had that next-man-up mentality the whole year, so I know the next guy that’s up is going to do his job.”


AP Sports Writer Tom Canavan in East Rutherford, New Jersey, contributed.


AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/nhl

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