Winnipeg Jets\' Blake Wheeler (26) celebrates his goal with Evander Kane (9) during third period NHL action in Winnipeg on Thursday, March 1, 2012. Wheeler says Kane is being unfairly picked on once again over a lighthearted tweet. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods
WINNIPEG - A little good-natured Twitter banter has turned into another excuse to criticize Winnipeg Jets forward Evander Kane, Blake Wheeler suggested Wednesday as he defended his teammate.
Wheeler said Kane was just making a joke that was misunderstood and misinterpreted by "Winnipeg folks" and the media once again.
"I think once again (it's) just making something out of nothing and it seems to happen a lot in regards to (Kane)," said Wheeler.
"He makes a comment and that's what you guys have to talk about."
In this case, however, it was Wheeler who got the ball rolling, with comments in an interview Tuesday during NHL media day when he was asked how the Jets could compete in the Central Division with teams that have made some high-profile off-season signings.
He pointed to Kane as someone who could step up his game and compete with the best.
"This is a conversation that has been had amongst everyone. There's a lot of guys that need to step up this year, myself included," Wheeler said Wednesday.
"I'm not pointing fingers, this was me, more or less giving a compliment to a guy that I believe can be one of the top players in the NHL."
Wheeler repeated that he believes Kane is a player who has the ability to help the Jets get to the next level as they try once again to reach the playoffs in 2014.
"I feel like if he comes in and embraces a leadership role and just comes ready to play it's going to help our team, it's going to get us where we want to go."
The Jets are largely unchanged from last season, when they once again failed to add to the single playoff appearance the franchise has made during its former residence in Atlanta or after relocating to a new home in Winnipeg.
In response to Wheeler's initial comments, Kane Tweeted that Wheeler "could have just thrown me a text #youcanfindmeatthetopofthecircle."
Wheeler said he took the tweet from Kane as he was sure Kane intended.
"It's a little bit frustrating. . . He was making a joke and it was taken the wrong way, so that's the end of that."
Wheeler may want to step up his game but, at 28, the right-winger led the team in scoring in 2013-14 and is coming off his best NHL season ever, with 28 goals and 69 points in 82 games, good enough for 19th in the league.
Kane, 23, played only 63 games last season due to injuries and finished with 19 goals and 41 points and despite his youth, this is his sixth NHL season. His best was 2011-12, the team's first in Winnipeg, when he played 74 games and had 30 goals and 57 assists.
The Vancouver native also continues to be the subject of trade rumours, although the Jets have given no indication they would let him go, but he hasn't done much himself to squelch the talk.
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