Wheeler/By S. Bradley

Was it a sophomore slump or a sign that Blake Wheeler’s not going to live up to the type of expectations that made him the fifth overall pick in ’04 and then a coveted free agent out of Minnesota in the summer of 2008?

Wheeler dropped to 18 goals from 21 as a rookie this season — a dip actually better than those of some of his more-experienced teammates. But his lack of consistency was truly disturbing.

Somehow he managed to skate through the whole month of December without scoring a goal and potted just one in the month of February. The oodles of chances he created almost every night were supposedly a confidence booster for him, but instead they were just demoralizing experiences for the entire team because he cashed in so rarely.

Wheeler continued to be a key penalty-killer, but otherwise his defensive prowess slacked and he wasn’t nearly enough of a net-front presence with his 6-foot-5, 208-pound frame. Maybe more than any other free agent he has to decide about, Wheeler is going to be a mystery general manager Peter Chiarelli has to solve this summer.

Stats: 82 GP, 18-20-38, 53 PIM, minus-4

Season highlight: In what was Boston’s last shining moment of the ’09-10 season, Wheeler was a star in Philadelphia during the Bruins’ Game 3 win. He scored one goal on a redirect and helped set up a second score while filling in for the injured David Krejci on the power play. For one night at least, Wheeler looked like a power forward.

Season low-light: The month of December was pretty dreadful for Wheeler, who all told went 15 games without scoring  a goal through Jan. 4.

Final grade: C-minus
Wheeler’s hockey sense seemed to take a step back along with his scoring touch from one season to the next and you would’ve like to have seen at least a glimpse of improvement. Instead there’s just more questions surrounding Wheeler than answers.

The crystal ball says … Wheeler agrees to a reasonable, short-term deal to stay in Boston and might settle into a more defensive, penalty-kill specialist role on a revamped offensive roster.