VOORHEES, N.J. – Eric Wellwood is learning a good lesson with the Flyers in training camp – a job isn’t automatic.
If Wellwood had the ability to push the rewind button at this point, he probably would.
When he came up to the big club a season ago, Wellwood played some inspired hockey. He was especially solid in the playoffs, looking like a missile on the ice skating with a purpose and making the rest of the players on the ice seem stuck in neutral.
But, when the lockout began and Wellwood was shipped back to the Adirondack Phantoms to stay sharp in preparation for the return of the NHL, rather than play like he did to finish the season before, Wellwood took an approach that seemed more entitled and more dismissive of the AHL.
It showed in his play, which wasn’t sharp in the least. It was so glaringly out of sync with the rest of the Phantoms team, that Wellwood found himself as a healthy scratch and in coach Terry Murray’s doghouse.
“My first month was very poor,” Wellwood said. “It’s not where I wanted to be. I was focused on the lockout and when it was going to end. That contributed to that start. I was excited to get the season going because I felt I had a good opportunity to make the team out of camp and with the disappointment of the lockout, my head was elsewhere.
“In November and December though, I was really strong and back to where I needed to be and I was happy with my game.”
But was it enough?
There’s no doubt that many observers of the Flyers had Wellwood inked into the lineup following his fine playoff performance last spring.
But, Wellwood may have done enough damage by not focusing on playing his best with the Phantoms that it could have cost him a job to start the season in the lineup Saturday for the opening game for the Flyers against Pittsburgh.
“The last time I saw him play he was a real effective player for the Phantoms,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “He’s here now and he’s competing for his spot with some other players… He’s jockeying for position like a lot of other people and that’s all part of training camp.”
And right now, Wellwood could get caught in the numbers game. A spot that seemed secure is not so comfortable anymore. Through three days of camp, Wellwood has found himself skating with the grey jerseys – or the fifth line – twice.
Meanwhile 18-year-old first round draft pick Scott Laughton and fellow Phantoms call-up Tye McGinn have spent two days each on one of the top four lines.
“It’s tough to say where I am because [the coaches] don’t say much,” Wellwood said. “I just have to come to the rink, prepare to have a good practice, and try to make the team out of camp.
“If things don’t work out that way, there’s still an opportunity when guys get hurt and you get the call, you have a [chance] to play well.”
Ultimately Wellwood, 22, a sixth round draft pick of the Flyers (No. 172 overall) in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, will have a regular NHL roster spot.
The Flyers still think highly of him, and know they can rely on him if they need him to jump in a variety of roles.
“We’re really confident in the way he plays and his experience from last season merits his being here competing for a job,” Laviolette said. “His greatest asset in games is his speed and his ability to disturb things from the other team’s offense. He seems to get in the way out there.”
But that might not be enough for him to make the team outright, or have a regular spot on one of the top four lines.
It still might though. But if it doesn’t, Wellwood can chalk it up to a lesson learned and use that to make himself a better player moving forward.
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