With a strong rookie year comes even higher expectations during your sophomore campaign, something that Avalanche forward Wojtek Wolski is well aware of.
A season ago, Wolski finished fourth among NHL rookies in scoring with 50 points (22g/28a) in 76 games, making him and Paul Stastny
(28g/50a) only the third rookie duo since 1993-94 to both reach 50 points. The pair also became just the third rookie tandem in franchise history to both reach the 20-goal plateau.
So far this season, Wolski had made the sometimes difficult transition from Year 1 to Year 2 look relatively simple.
While displaying his slick stickhandling abilities and an improved emphasis in the defensive end, Wolski has continued his transformation into a complete two-way player during his second season.
Through 46 games, Wolski ranks fourth on the team in points (28) while sitting second in power play markers (tied-4) and game-winning goals (4).
“After one year of experience they want more and you have to kind of step up,” said the Zabrze, Poland, native. “Especially how things have gone and with the injuries we’ve had this year, I think the other guys, especially myself and Paul, have to step up and make sure we’re playing well.”
|Wolski has been instrumental in the Avalanche's success through the first half of the year |
Two of those injured players Wolski is referring to, of course, are Avalanche captain Joe Sakic and forward Ryan Smyth, both of whom will remain out of the lineup for several weeks to come. In their absence, young cornerstones such as Wolski and Stastny feel the extra load on their shoulders and realize that using the injuries as an excuse will get them nowhere quickly.
“With the guys that are out right now, we have to make sure we don’t give games away just because we have that excuse,” said Wolski. “I think guys are looking towards me, Paul and some other guys to give a little extra and get some extra momentum for our team.”
Wolski’s teammates aren’t the only ones looking to him to provide a spark. Avalanche head coach Joel Quenneville has given Wolski added responsibilities this season, including a turn at the quarterback position on the team’s first power-play unit after Sakic’s injury.
Those added duties are welcomed by the 6-3, 200-pound forward.
“He just thinks that I’m ready for more responsibility,” Wolski said of the Avalanche head coach. “He thinks the potential is there, I just have to make sure it’s consistent and every night I’m playing the way I should be playing.”
One aspect of Wolski’s game that has to please Quenneville is the forward’s improved play in the defensive zone. After working hard on his defensive game in the offseason, Wolski has been able to make more of a consistent, positive impact on the game even when he’s not producing points.
Bearing down a little more on the boards has helped Wolski find himself in the right position defensively, more often than not. After finishing last season with a +2 rating, Wolski has improved that number to a +5 so far this year.
“When you put yourself in the right position, you don’t have to do too many miraculous things out there. That’s one thing that I’ve really tried to focus on,” said Wolski.