It’s been a long season for Mitch Wheaton.
If all goes as planned, the Kelowna Rockets’ defenceman will be back playing with his teammates in the Western Hockey League playoffs.
Wheaton, who has battled injuries to both shoulders over the last three seasons, played in just four games in 2014-15 before undergoing surgery for a third time last fall.
Wheaton, who has been skating for the last six weeks, hopes to be cleared for contact before the playoffs begin.
“I’m maybe pushing it thinking I can be back playing before the end of the regular season, but just getting back for the playoffs would make me happy,” said the 6-foot-5, 220-pound Sherwood Park, AB native. “The guys are having an extraordinary year and it should be an exciting playoff run. It would be nice to be part of that.”
Shoulder troubles have limited Wheaton to just 100 regular season games over three seasons and have cut into some valuable development time for the Detroit Red Wings’ draft choice.
Still, as frustrating as it’s been at times, Wheaton has done his best to remain focused on the future.
“There’s nothing I can do about what’s happened, I’m just staying positive and taking advantage of the time I’ve had to get back,” said Wheaton, 20. “I’m probably in the best shape I’ve been in for a long time.
“Not every day is a good day,” Wheaton added, “but my coaches, teammates and specifically, my family, have really been important in helping me through this.”
Kelowna head coach Dan Lambert said when Wheaton does return, both he and the Rockets will need to be patient in getting him back up to speed.
“It’s one thing when it happens once, but to have it happen three years in a row is a tough thing for a young player,” Lambert said. “It’s good to see Mitch getting closer. Missing that much action, his timing is going to be a bit off, so when he does return we’ll have to see where we’re at (on defense) and just work him back in slowly.”
Meanwhile, the Rockets are missing another key blue liner in Josh Morrissey who is sidelined on a day-to-day basis with a lower body injury.
Morrissey fell awkwardly after being checked in Saturday’s game against Calgary and had to be helped from the ice.
Centre Rourke Chartier remains sidelined with an upper body injury, but has resumed working out which Lambert calls “a good sign.”
The Rockets visit the Vancouver Giants on Friday, before returning home to face the Spokane Chiefs on Saturday. Face off at Prospera Place is 7 p.m