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Wandell thriving with more ice time, responsibility

by John Tranchina / Dallas Stars

Missing their top two centers due to injuries, the Dallas Stars have needed other players to step up and shine with more responsibility, and one player taking advantage of his opportunity to move up the lineup is center Tom Wandell.

photo by Trey Hill
With Jamie Benn and Mike Ribeiro each absent for the last few games, Wandell has moved up from his previous assignment anchoring the fourth line into Ribeiro’s slot between captain Brenden Morrow and 2011 All-Star Loui Eriksson and has played well.

“I try my best to do the best with it and that’s all I can do,” said the 24-year-old Wandell, now in his third full season with the Stars, of the chance to showcase his talents a bit more. “This is a big opportunity for me and I know it, and hopefully I can take advantage of it. Playing with Brenden, Loui, Benner, all those guys - you can have a scoring chance any shift with those guys. That’s a big thing.”

“I thought he’s played hard,” coach Glen Gultuzan said of Wandell. “It’s a big adjustment, you get bigger matchups and I thought he’s played well. Hopefully he can have some offensive success too, but he’s worked hard and I thought he’s done a good job for us.”

Wandell’s key goal Saturday night that tied Tampa Bay 1-1 in the third period demonstrates the unique mix of hard-work and skill that the 6-foot-1, 200-pound native of Sodertalje, Sweden had been displaying on the fourth line, leading to his promotion.

As he charged the net tangled with a Lightning defender off the rush, Wandell received a backhand pass in front from Eriksson and it ricocheted off his right skate on net. Tampa goaltender Mathieu Garon made the initial save, but the rebound pinballed off Wandell’s skate again and rolled over Garon’s pad.

A lengthy video review upheld the call that Wandell did not use a ‘distinct kicking motion’ to propel the puck into the net. In a game that ended in a disappointing 2-1 loss, Wandell’s performance was one of few bright spots.

‘It went off his skate, there’s no kicking motion, good for Wandy,” a terse Gulutzan said that night. “He’s worked hard tonight. There’s a few guys that worked hard.”

“That’s always a plus to contribute to the scoresheet,” added Wandell, who has fired 22 shots on goal over the last seven contests, a significant portion of his season total of 60, earned in 42 games. “Anyone wants to do that, of course, and I think I can do it even more. I feel way better this year than last year and hopefully I can just keep going and be even better. I’ve been working hard for it, that’s for sure.”

Along with the increase in ice time he’s taken on over the last seven games since Ribeiro’s injury, that accompanied his jump up to the second line, Wandell has also had to face tougher opponents and that has required a bit of an adjustment.

Through his first 35 games played this year, Wandell exceeded 11 minutes of ice time just twice. The last seven games have seen him not only surpass that figure each time, but he’s been averaging 15:54 per outing, virtually double his early-season output. His new linemates have been impressed with the transition.

“I think he’s done a great job doubling his minutes basically and playing with speed and playing with pace,” noted Morrow. “The puck kind of sticks to him a little bit, he’s skilled with it and he makes some headsy plays. I think he’s adjusted pretty well to it.”

“I think he’s been playing real well here lately,” added Eriksson, a fellow Swede. “He’s got a big opportunity now with Ribeiro getting hurt here, and he’s just got to keep playing the way he’s been doing. He’s been creating a lot of chances and shooting a lot, so I think he’s going to get better as he goes on here.”

Besides requiring an elevated level of conditioning and facing tougher checking from the opposition, Wandell, who notched five points (one goal, four assists) in the four games prior to his deployment on the second line, has had to focus more on all aspects of his game.

“Just keeping your shifts hard and short and making sure you’re responsible defensively, because now you’re out there against top players,” Gulutzan said of the challenges the move has presented for Wandell. “I think you have to be more focused in your game, it’s not easy going from eight minutes to 16 or 17, but he’s doing a good job, and he’s going to get better as he goes at it, too. The longer he gets to play more, the better he’s going to get.”

“He’s been playing well. You can tell that he’s been getting his legs under him,” added fourth line forward Toby Petersen, who has spent much of this season skating alongside Wandell. “It’s never easy to make a huge jump in ice time the way he has and you can tell that he’s been getting better and better with each game. It’s a big boost we need with Ribby out of the lineup, obviously we need people to pick up the offense and pick up the time on ice, and Tommy has been doing a pretty good job of that.”

It’s been a nice change to his predicament early in the season, when Wandell had trouble just getting into the lineup anywhere. Through the first 19 games of the season, Wandell sat out as a healthy scratch five times, and when he did play, he did not record a point, registered a -6 plus/minus and managed only 10 shots on goal while averaging just 7:52 of ice time.

Since then, he gradually claimed a bit more ice time, started playing better and more consistently, and really seemed to find his stride after scoring a goal and an assist in the Stars 4-2 win over defending Stanley Cup champion Boston on New Year’s Eve. That performance sparked his most recent hot streak and led to his promotion once Ribeiro got hurt Jan. 7 against Edmonton.

“He’s earned it. Not only has he been given the opportunity, but he’s earned it,” Gulutzan emphasized. “He played well in his role on the fourth line and created offense for us there, and been solid defensively, so he’s earned the opportunity too.”

“You’ve got to earn it, play more, get more ice time, get more opportunities, so if I’m in the game, I feel like I have an opportunity,” added Wandell, the Stars’ fifth-round selection (146th overall) in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. “Every little detail has got to be good if you want more ice time. You’ve got to really dig in, throw bodies around, get pucks to the net and all those things. And no goals against, obviously.”

As the season has progressed, it seems that, beside his much-higher confidence level, the biggest difference between Wandell’s play now and early in the year revolves around his ability to deliver the same work ethic and compete level on a nightly basis.

“Just consistency in what we want him to do, as far staying engaged physically, he’s finished his checks and he’s put a lot of pucks towards the net, and his overall work ethic and intensity level is up,” Gulutzan said. “That’s what we feel, from the start of the season. And when I say up, I mean on a consistent basis. He always competes and skates, but that level has been more sustained.”

“I think in the past you can see the skill and talent he has,” said Morrow. “And I’m sure at one point, he was a scorer in junior and in the Swedish leagues, and it just takes a little confidence for things to go in. I think he’s doing fine in (his new) role. He’s been working really hard and he deserves a shot on a top line.”

So far, despite the fact that the Stars have managed just six goals in the last five games, four of which have seen Dallas missing both Benn and Ribeiro, Wandell has fit in well and hopes to keep his opportunity for more minutes going even after the top guns return.

“It’s a good opportunity, for sure,” Gulutzan said of Wandell. “That’s what you have to do when you have injuries, your guys with depth have to fill in for the guys that are out.”

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