Manchester United snapped up the attacking midfielder from Sporting Lisbon in January last year and he quickly hit the ground running in the Premier League.
Fernandes dragged Manchester United to a third-place finish last season and continued to be their talisman as they climbed up to the top of the league table this month.
Fernandes has scored 27 times and has provided 17 assists in 48 appearances for Manchester United, but Whelan believes his impact cannot just be measured in goals and assists.
He feels the Portuguese has forced his Manchester United team-mates to lift their game like Cantona did nearly three decades ago, when he joined the Red Devils from Leeds United.
The Liverpool legend, looking ahead to the Reds playing Manchester United, said on LFC TV: “Not just the goals, it is everything else that he does.
“It is more than the football side – the closing down, the chasing he does, the work rate he puts in, he gets back and helps his defenders – it is everything you want in a player.
“I think the problem that everybody’s got at the minute is all the Man United players have reacted to him.
“He’s a bit for me like Cantona.
“When he came in, you had all the young lads coming through, and then they became a very good team.
“I think with this lad as well, they are looking at him; they must be looking at him what he does in training, how he reacts, how he goes about everything himself and I think they have all reacted to him and they have all got better.”
Fernandes will face Liverpool for the first time since his arrival in England when Manchester United travel to Anfield on Sunday.