There weren’t many 2013 draft prospects who measured larger than Mitchell Wheaton.
But if you’re expecting the burly 6-foot-4, 230-pound Kelowna Rockets defenseman to be a punishing bruiser who drops the gloves at a moment’s notice, you’ve got the wrong guy.
“He’s a real intelligent defender,” said Red Wings scout Jeff Finley. “Thinks the game really well and moves the puck really well for a big guy. He’s physical, but I wouldn’t call him punishing.”
Wheaton, selected by the Red Wings in the fifth round, 139th overall, saw his draft year shortened by a shoulder injury. He appeared in 39 games as a WHL rookie, recording a goal, seven assists, one fighting major and a plus-20 rating on a strong team before suffering a shoulder injury on Jan. 24.
Although he briefly returned for the WHL playoffs despite requiring surgery — doctors “told him he couldn’t make it any worse,” Finley said — the injury limited his exposure to scouts.
Despite his size, Wheaton needs to get stronger within his frame.
“He still needs to put on the right kind of weight,” Finley said. “He’s got a great attitude that way. He’s found the gym, he’s learning how to train, and he really wants to be a pro. The (Kelowna coaches) really like his attitude and deameanor.”
Wheaton, who entered the WHL as a late 10th-round bantam draft pick, will spend the next two seasons in Kelowna working toward a contract. Although he sees power-play time for the Rockets and has surprising puck skills for his frame, the Red Wings see him as a defenseman whose primary responsibility will be taking care of his own end.
“He sees the ice well,” Finley said. “When he has the puck on his stick, he can make a good first pass for a big guy. But moving forward, I think of him more as a big-body shut-down type of guy.”