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Starting with a clean slate

by Jeff Paterson / Vancouver Canucks
 The newest member of the Vancouver Canucks has high hopes about his ability to come in and land a significant role with the hockey club, but Kyle Wellwood realizes he has to get healthy first.

Slowed by groin and sports hernia injuries the past couple of seasons, the 25-year-old who was claimed by the Canucks off waivers from the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday is currently on the limp with a broken foot suffered in an off-season indoor soccer training session.

“I broke my (right) foot four weeks ago and it’s been healing really well and all the (tests) and x-rays have been great and I’m going to be able to walk on it really soon,” Wellwood told the Vancouver media during a conference call from his off-season home in Windsor, Ontario. “And as far as my groin, it’s been feeling a lot better and from the rehab perspective I think that I’m over the hump.”

Jeff Paterson is a Team 1040 broadcaster and a regular contributor to the Georgia Straight.

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Cast aside by the Leafs after three seasons in Toronto, Wellwood sounded enthused to have been claimed so quickly by the Canucks. And while it had only been a few hours since he’d learned of the move, the 5’10” 180-pound right-handed centreman had already had a chance to look over the Canuck line-up trying to figure out where he’d fit in on his new hockey club.

“I looked at their roster and I’m just hoping that I can come in and play like a top six forward,” he said. “That’s where I’d like to be and be able to get those kinds of minutes.”

Wellwood, Toronto’s fifth round selection in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, was an offensive dynamo twice cracking the 100-point mark during his five years in the Ontario Hockey League. He also posted an 87-point season with the Leafs American Hockey League affiliate in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

But the jump to the NHL hasn’t been easy for Wellwood who’s been regarded as a slick puck-handler and playmaker. The knock against him has been is commitment level during the summer and the off-season and his ability to stay healthy enough to be a regular in the line-up.

Wellwood plays down the commitment issues pointing to his speedy return to the Leafs after his initial groin problem a few years back. But he’s willing to accept his share of the responsibility for allowing the issues to persist and he admits now that he could have done a better job of keeping in contact with the Toronto training staff once the season was over.

“After my first (groin) surgery I was playing full-time after five weeks and I ended up rehurting it there and I never recovered over the summer,” he explains. “On my part, I didn’t communicate enough with the Leafs how it was feeling and I just didn’t do well enough rehabbing it and training hard enough.”

Two years ago, Wellwood had 42 points in 48 games and appeared to be a part of the Leafs rebuilding process. But after struggling with the injuries and managing just eight goals and 21 points in 59 games last year, Wellwood found himself amidst the massive housecleaning going on in the Big Smoke. But he holds no grudges and looks forward to showing that he can be a point producer in the NHL.

“I think they (the Leafs) are just going in a different direction and they wanted to shake things up a little bit. And my name was one of the question marks,” he says. “I’m not out to prove anything against the Leafs, but definitely I have a lot to prove to myself.”

A little quirky – hey, the guy chooses not to own a television set during the hockey season (although he admits he does have one at his off-season home) – Wellwood has a clean slate with the Canucks. He says he doesn’t know any of the players on the current roster and has never had any dealings with new general manager Mike Gillis.

Right now, his focus is on getting out of the cast on his broken foot and start looking ahead to the next chapter in his hockey career. And he doesn’t think the foot injury will set him back in any way.

“I would be skating on my normal schedule. I had been skating before I broke my foot to rehab my groin. I usually don’t start skating until mid-July anyway, so it should be alright,” he says.

The Canucks want Wellwood to take the remainder of the summer to rest-up so that when training camp rolls around he’s happy – and more importantly healthy – and ready to show that he deserves a spot on one of the team’s top two lines.
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