Wheeler pegged for right wing with Thrashers

Not long into his first Thrashers practice, Blake Wheeler was in familiar territory.

One of the newest Thrashers recognized the one-on-one and two-on-two battle drills on Monday, courtesy of coach Craig Ramsay. Wheeler, who was acquired with Mark Stuart on Friday from Boston, was subject to the same exercises over the previous three seasons, when Ramsay was an assistant with the Bruins.

“Blake made a comment about it right off the bat because it’s a hard drill,” Ramsay said. “They saw one of the old drills coming out pretty quick.”

Wheeler and Stuart flew to Boston following Saturday night’s loss in Edmonton to tie up loose ends, and arrived in Atlanta on Monday morning just in time for their first practice.

Wheeler had figured he was headed to Toronto in the deal that brought Tomas Kaberle to the Bruins.

“I view this as a great opportunity and a great challenge,” Wheeler said. “It really couldn’t have been a more perfect situation having Rammer here already, having worked with him pretty extensively in the past few years on the penalty kill. That makes everything a lot easier in itself. Philosophy-wise, you know where he is coming from.

“I’ve been waiting for an opportunity like this. In Boston, sometimes, a little bit of frustration set in with everything.”

One of the reasons the Thrashers made the deal, giving up Rich Peverley and former first-round pick Boris Valabik, was to get bigger up front, especially at center. However, it appears Wheeler initially will have a chance at right wing. He played mostly right wing and some center in the 5-3 loss to Edmonton.

“The position I’ve been most comfortable has been right wing, and it’s the position I’ve probably played the least in my NHL career so far,” Wheeler said. “I feel I can play any of the positions. With center, the only challenge for me is in the faceoff circle. I haven’t really practiced it much [the] last few years.”

Wheeler played better at right wing against Edmonton, Ramsay said.

The 24-year-old Wheeler, who picked up an assist against the Oilers, had 11 goals for the Bruins while shuffled between different lines and linemates. He said his speed and forecheck ability are his strengths. As for his size, that’s something the 6-foot-5, 205-pounder has been working to use to his advantage.

The Thrashers (25-25-10) obtained Wheeler and Stuart in the midst of a playoff race. After winning just six times in the past 25 games (6-14-5), the Thrashers entered Monday’s NHL schedule as the 10th team in the Eastern Conference, four points behind Carolina for the eighth and final playoff spot. They play at Buffalo, which also has 60 points but two games in hand, on Wednesday night.

“Any time you get moved you want to still be competing for something,” Wheeler said. “This team is right there.”

Thrashers, Ladd close to new deal

The Thrashers and Andrew Ladd continue to work on a new contract. On Monday, he said the two sides are “on the same page.” The team captain added he wants to remain with the team long term.

“I want to be a part of what we are doing here," Ladd said. "We kind of need a couple guys to stay and say this is a good place, and we’ve got a good thing going here. It will help out a lot.”

Ladd, 25, is scheduled to be a restricted free agent following the season, one in which he'll earn $2.35 million. He leads the Thrashers with 21 goals, a career high.

Last week, the Thrashers signed defenseman Dustin Byfuglien to a five-year, $26 million deal.

Rissmiller recalled

The club recalled forward Patrick Rissmiller from AHL Lake Erie following Monday's workout.