To say Trey Fix-Wolansky was amped to start his first professional season might have been an understatement.
A year after topping the 100-point mark in the Western Hockey League and making a successful playoff debut a season ago with AHL Cleveland, Fix-Wolansky was one of the most intriguing Blue Jackets players to watch in September.
First, the 20-year-old showed off his offensive skill while scoring five points in four games at the annual Traverse City Prospects Tournament. Then Fix-Wolansky's offensive instincts were noticeable when he arrived in Columbus for the team's training camp.
It made sense for him to begin the season again with the Monsters as he learned the intricacies of the pro game, but then the bad news hit.
Just four games into Cleveland's season, Fix-Wolansky hit the injured list with a groin injury that lingered for nearly two months. His recovery was as much a mental one as a physical one for a player who went from amped to show his stuff to one who had to sit on the sideline.
"I think it's a little bit more of a mental game than a physical game," he said of rehabbing. "Obviously you are physically hurt and you're doing your rehab to get back, but you can't let your mind shift away from hockey. You have to watch the games even when you're out, you have to pick up on the little things. Sometimes sitting out you can do that - you can pick up on the little things here and there and add it to your game. I just tried to get better even when I was out."
After taking a few games to find his sea legs, Fix-Wolansky has done just that. Over his past five games, he has a goal and five assists for six points, including four points in two games this past weekend as the Monsters swept a Milwaukee that entered in first place in the AHL's Central Division.
Perhaps his biggest contribution was making the overtime goal happen in Cleveland's 3-2 victory in the Friday night game. Fix-Wolansky picked up the puck in his own zone, dashed through the neutral zone with speed, cut across to the left as he crossed the blue line, spun onto his forehand and delivered a pass across the zone that Stefan Matteau slammed home for the winning goal.
"As soon as I saw I had a little bit of time and space coming around the net, I started to just fire it up and get down the ice," he said. "I ended up baiting the first guy and saw Matts trailing, and I hit him and he had a great shot and scored. I couldn't really ask for anything else."
Putting up offensive numbers is what the competitive, fiery Fix-Wolansky is all about. In his last two seasons with Edmonton of the WHL, he posted 69 goals and 122 assists for 191 points in 136 games. A year ago, he had a 37-65-102 line in 65 games to earn conference player of the year honors.
But even with all that scoring, he was only selected in the seventh round by the Blue Jackets, and size was the likely knock. He stands just 5-foot-7, and even in an NHL where speed and skill have seized the day, sometimes it's hard for the little guy to find a fair shake.
As long as he keeps producing, though, Fix-Wolansky projects as a prospect who can contribute at the NHL level, while Monsters head coach Mike Eaves said the key for him will be to figure out how to make the most of his talent while playing against better and better players at the pro level.
"He's got things you don't teach in terms of puck skills and that," Eaves said. "He's got to learn the pro game and make quality decisions with the puck and learn what you can and cannot do at this level in terms of using those offensive skills and when and how, those types of things.
"He got behind the eight-ball a little bit with the injuries, but now he's starting to play regularly and there are some good signs that are showing now."
Now healthy, Fix-Wolansky wants to be a catalyst for a big second half, not just for himself but for a Monsters team that is battling for a playoff spot despite its own spate of injuries and all the callups to Columbus.
"I think the start of the year wasn't exactly the way I wanted it to go, getting hurt four games in, but I came back and then had Christmas break, a little bit of a reset there," he said. "Coming back, I just felt like I needed a big second half, and I plan on working every day to try to get better. It's starting to pay off."