After twice getting tossed on professional hockey’s scrap heap this season, Sean Wiles has made a remarkable comeback with the Wranglers.
“He’s been arguably our best player since we brought him back,” Las Vegas coach Ryan Mougenel said. “He’s been our most consistent player, for sure.”
A 6-foot-3-inch, 203-pound forward from Newton, Wis., Wiles began his rookie season with Las Vegas but was waived in November after being held scoreless in 10 games and getting caught in a numbers crunch.
“He skates well, and he’s a big body, but he didn’t engage,” Mougenel said. “He was playing on the outside, and when you’re a big body, you can’t play on the outside.”
After clearing waivers in the ECHL, Wiles signed with Rapid City (S.D.) of the Central Hockey League, but was waived by the Rush in January after totaling three goals and two assists in 23 games. He faced an uncertain future when no other CHL team claimed him.
Fortunately for Wiles, the Wranglers were short-handed at the time, and Mougenel decided to give him another shot.
“He said if I could play the way he wanted me to play, he’d give me another chance,” Wiles, 24, said. “I came back and showed him I can play.”
Before Wiles started his second stint with Las Vegas in Stockton, Calif., on Jan. 20, Mougenel gave him his mission statement.
“The day he came in we had a real heart-to-heart (talk) about playing the right way,” Mougenel said. “The way he was playing just wasn’t working, so he had to reinvent himself, and that’s what he did.”
Wiles played inspired hockey the next night, scoring two goals, and he hasn’t looked back, netting 10 goals and eight assists in 28 games since.
He didn’t score Saturday as the Wranglers (40-22-1, 87 points) were dealt their second 3-2 shootout loss in as many nights by the Idaho Steelheads (29-31-9, 67 points) at Orleans Arena.
“I definitely went through a lot of lows this year,” Wiles said. “It was really difficult, but I’ve kind of realized that’s the way it is.
“It’s a business, and if I want to stay in this business, I’ve got to compete every night and do what I need to do every night, and I’ve been trying to do that.”
It also took Wiles time to adjust to junior hockey and to the college game at the University of Alaska-Anchorage, where he was named most improved player as a junior.
“That’s the way it’s always been for me showing up somewhere (new). I’ve got to get acclimated,” he said. “I’ve always had to learn something new, grow and get better. It happened in juniors, it happened in college, and now it’s happened in the pros.”
After witnessing Wiles’ midseason transformation, Mougenel is confident he can succeed in the American Hockey League — provided the soft-spoken player becomes more of a pest on the ice.
“He’s got to keep his nose dirty,” Mougenel said. “The guys who have moved on from this league all have the common denominator of 150 (penalty) minutes.
“They’ve got to bring something else to the table, and that’s what I said to Sean: ‘We’ve got a lot of guys with skill, but we need somebody to be a little bit like sandpaper and be a little bit of a pest.’ ”
While Wiles has only 14 penalty minutes in 38 games, he’s getting more comfortable with his role.
“Being a big forward like myself, I’ve got to finish all my checks and skate as hard as I can,” he said. “I’ve got to get to the net and find those hard areas and put myself there, because I am big and tougher to move off the puck.”
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0354.IDAHO — 3
LAS VEGAS — 2
KEY: Chad Nehring scored in the fifth round of the shootout for the Steelheads, and Jerry Kuhn made 45 saves.
NEXT: Alaska at Wranglers, 7:05 p.m. Tuesday