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Workhorse Wellwood

by Kristi Hennessy / Winnipeg Jets
Kyle Wellwood’s earliest memory of playing hockey is with his father as a young boy in his hometown of Oldcastle, Ontario, just outside Windsor.

“He had built us a really nice rink in the backyard as we were lucky enough to have cold enough winters. I went out there and skated as much as I could.”

Wellwood was drafted by the Belleville Bulls 16th overall at the 1999 Ontario Hockey League draft and put up 51 points in his rookie season. It was in his sophomore year that he began turning heads as he recorded an impressive 118 points (35g, 83a) that season, capturing the league’s leading scorer title.

“When I came to Belleville as a rookie, they had just won the championship last year so was on the third or fourth line and then the next year, I got to play on the first line and ended up getting a lot of points.”

After that dominating season, the Toronto Maple Leafs selected him 134th overall at the 2001 NHL Entry Draft. “We were in Florida,” Wellwood remembered of draft day. “Since it (the draft) was there, a lot of my family came down for a vacation. We were mostly Red Wings fans, my family, but I had one die hard Maple Leafs fan in the family and when the Leafs picked me, he was pretty excited.”

Wellwood was traded to the Windsor Spitfires mid-way through the 2001-02 season and recorded 100 points (41g, 59a) in his final junior year. Kyle went pro the next season, playing the 2003-04 season with the American Hockey League’s St. John’s Maple Leafs.

“My rookie year I came in and had some opportunity,” he said. “They had some older guys that could show you how to play pro. The next year was the lockout year so the older guys were pushed out of the way and I was able to play on the top line again and I had a great season.”

A great season it was for the 5’10”, 181-pound forward, as he put up 87 points with St. John’s that year and finished fourth in the AHL in scoring. Wellwood cracked the Toronto lineup in 2005-06, recording 45 points in his first NHL season.

“You have to be prepared to play on the third and fourth lines as a rookie,” he said. “That’s a big part of making the jump, is to be able to handle the defensive side of the game and I was able to prove myself that way.”

After five seasons in the Leafs’ system, Wellwood was placed on waivers in June of 2008, getting claimed by the Vancouver Canucks. The following season, Kyle was handed a slightly different role in Vancouver, working on the third and fourth lines. Over the course of his young career, he had developed a reputation of being a very solid, dependable and consistent player.

“Vancouver had Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler at centre, so you end up having to take a more defensive role on the team because those guys can get so many points so you’re kind of only needed to play solid in your own end and you’re going to win a lot of games. It was a different experience and it’s made me a better player.”

He played one more season with the Canucks before becoming an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2010. After the summer, still without a new contract, Wellwood decided to try something new and play a season with Atlant Moscow Oblast of the Russian Kontinental Hockey League (KHL).

“I couldn’t get a full-time job in the NHL coming out of camp,” he explained. “Nobody was going to guarantee that I wasn’t going to be in the minors so I went over to play in Russia. It started off great but they had some coaching changes and they wanted to trade me but I wasn’t interested in moving to somewhere I didn’t pick originally, so I hung around and waited until I got a release or they played me more.”

In January of 2011 Wellwood was released from his KHL contract and he returned to his home in Ontario.

Later that month, Wellwood signed a deal with St. Louis, but because of a European import rule, he first had to clear re-entry waivers. It only took one day for the San Jose Sharks to scoop him up to come and finish the season with the Sharks. He played in 35 games and additional 18 playoff games before dropping to his old Vancouver Canucks team in the Western Conference Finals.

Wellwood became a free agent on July 1st, 2011 and was looking for yet another contract, another opening and most likely, another role. He knew he had a couple of options, but making the decision can be easier said than done.

“I was looking for an opportunity to play more minutes and have a bigger role on the team and you just hope that comes about. I talked to Winnipeg throughout the summer and San Jose was a last resort to have me back on more of a tryout, depth-role basis.”

The decision was made when Wellwood agreed to a one-year contract with the Winnipeg Jets on September 8th; just days before training camp began.

That's how you weigh your options, by what kind of hockey you're going to play. - Kyle Wellwood
“That’s how you weigh your options, by what kind of hockey you’re going to play.” he said. “San Jose has an awesome fan base and it’s a great lifestyle, but with Winnipeg, I maybe had a little more opportunity to play and be part of a Canadian city that is excited to have a team and it was something completely new. It was a tough decision but it just seemed that Winnipeg was better for me.”

So far, Wellwood has fit in very well with the Winnipeg Jets. He plays a versatile role and is able to play anywhere, with anyone, anytime you need him.

"I like him a lot, he's really smart,” said Jets Head coach Claude Noel. “He's an NHL player who can provide offence and has played really well for us. I find him really trustworthy and really reliable. He's a smart player and it seems that wherever we've put him, he's helped that line do well.”

“It’s been a nice experience so far,” said Wellwood. “I’ve been able to have some production that I was hoping for and they’ve given me spots all throughout the lineup, and that’s always a positive.”

The next step for Wellwood is to find stability. “That’s always the goal, to fit in well enough with an organization that they want you around long term because in hockey that is definitely the best lifestyle you can have.

“We’re prepared to move if we have to, as always, but we want to end up finding a home here.”
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