Everyone has it, whether they know it or not; some people reach it, others never get within earshot.
But exactly what is potential? As a verb it’s one thing, used as an adjective it’s another, and in the case of Vancouver Canucks forward Kyle Wellwood, the word seems to be a definition all on its own.
Ever since the 25-year-old slipped his feet into a pair of hand-me-down cheese cutters, potential has ruled his world. One could argue that every kid has potential, but with a rare mixture of smarts, vision and athletic prowess, Wellwood was oozing big-league promise back when Alf was eating cats, Doogie Howser was working the beds, and MacGyver was using spit and copper wire to cripple the mob.
The Ontario Hockey League’s Belleville Bulls first recognized Wellwood’s potential in the late 90’s and used their first-round choice, 16th overall, to nab the undersized forward out of Bantam. He quickly established himself as an offensive genius and captured the league scoring title in just his second year with 118 points.
Traded to the Windsor Spitfires for fellow NHLer Jason Spezza in 2002, Wellwood spent a season and a half with the Spitfires, then two with the American Hockey League’s St. John’s Maple Leafs, before making the jump to the big show with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2005-06. TURNING PRO
By most accounts, Wellwood’s professional has been mercurial. Hampered by nagging groin injuries, the 5-foot-10, 180-pounder hasn’t yet established a reputation as the game-breaking talent he did in the junior and minor professional levels, yet he certainly isn’t out of place in the NHL.
In his first season in the league the native of Windsor, Ont. finished tied for ninth in rookie scoring with 45 points (11-34-45) behind the likes of Ovechkin and Crosby. Scoff if you will, but the Maple Leafs were 8-1 when the forward tickled the twine that year. In three seasons Toronto was 19-8 when he scored and 55-27 when Wellwood recorded at least a point.
He’s demonstrated an impactful understanding for the game – former teammate Matthew Stajan told ESPN.com that Wellwood “sees the play two passes before it happens” – and yet at the same time Wellwood hasn’t established himself as a consistent offensive threat.
The potential is there though, there’s no room for debating that - it’s one of the main reasons Vancouver brought him to town. A change of scenery can do a player wonders (see Roberto Luongo
) as can a little patience (see Daniel Briere) and Canucks general manager Mike Gillis is willing to take some time with Wellwood.
“We’re really pleased, we think he’s a guy that we are prepared to put a lot of time and effort into and work with,” Gillis told The Canadian Press.
“We’re quite pleased to have acquired him.”
Injuries have been part of Wellwood’s past, and they’re likely the reason he’s a member of the Canucks right now. MAKING A MOVE
After a solid rookie debut, he had 42 points (12-30-42) in 48 games in his sophomore year before a groin injury slowed him down. Before the beginning of last season he suffered a sports hernia which required multiple surgeries to repair. Those injuries, coupled with far-reaching upheaval in Toronto, meant Wellwood was expendable.
“I think they’re just going in a different direction,” Wellwood said of the Leafs. “I think they’re looking for different types of players and they wanted to shake things up a bit and my name was one of the question marks.”
Wellwood, who recently finished recovering from the broken right foot he suffered while playing soccer this summer, is now fully healed and with the support of his new team, he believes the sky’s the limit for him and the Canucks.
“Coming to a new team there’s always going to be new expectations, you’ve got to prove yourself right away and that’s what I’m going to try to do.
“I think this team this year is going to bring a lot of energy and focus; everybody’s got something to prove again. Not making the playoffs they had a lot of change over here and everybody wants to get back there.
Wellwood and potential just go hand in hand, much the same way that Trevor Linden and heart or Pavel Bure and speed will be forever united.
The problem is that this is the NHL and potential needs to be met sooner rather than later and its clear Wellwood recognizes that.
Here’s hoping his hockey rebirth on the west coast is something to remember.