Kyle Wellwood is that special kind of hockey player who can make fans gasp in amazement and opponents gape dumbfounded at his innate offensive abilities. When you go to a game in Windsor, the question many people ask is not ‘if’ Wellwood will score, but ‘how many times’ will he score. Top OHL defenseman and fellow Leafs’ prospect Brendan Bell describes Wellwood’s unique abilities in a similarly glowing fashion.
‘The main things that make him so dangerous offensively are his vision and creativity. He can see plays before they develop and he is not afraid to do things other players wouldn’t think to try. His offensive skills and play-making ability make him a threat every time he’s on the ice‘
His Gretzky-like vision and twine-splitting wrist shot should make him a lock to make the NHL, but questions about his size and skating abilities have plagued him throughout his career, and persist even now. Even after winning the Eddie Powers trophy as the top scorer in the OHL as a 17 year old in 2001, the Central Scouting Bureau only ranked Wellwood (then 5-9 and 170 lbs) as the 94th best North American skater for that year’s NHL Entry Draft. The Maple Leafs, desperate for young offensive talent in their organization, took a chance on Wellwood in the 5th round of the draft. While the Leafs probably considered Wellwood a bit of a long shot at the time, they have to be pleasantly surprised with how the young player has matured and developed over the course of the past year.
After failing to be named to last year’s selection camp for Canada’s World Junior team (partly due to a shoulder injury, partly due to subpar play), Wellwood’s play took off in the Ontario Hockey League. After a mid-season switch from Belleville to Windsor, Wellwood led the Spitfires to the Western Conference finals with 12 goals and 22 points in 16 games, before being stopped by the eventual Memorial Cup participant Erie Otters. He is well aware that he must improve his skating if he is to make the NHL, and the commitment he has made to better all-around fitness has resulted in an extra jump in his stride out on the ice. Wellwood’s play this season made it all but impossible for Head Scout Blair Mackasey to pass him up for Team Canada’s selection camp again, with eye-popping offensive totals of 26 goals and 59 points in 29 games, and more subtle but as important improvements in his defensive game which should allow Coach Habscheid to play him in all game situations in Halifax.
Hockeysfuture.com recently had the opportunity to talk to Kyle Wellwood about his current season in Windsor, and the upcoming selection camp for Team Canada in Halifax.
Name: Kyle Wellwood
Hometown: Oldcastle, Ontario
Acquired: 5th Round, 134th Overall in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft
Hockeysfuture: First of all, could you describe what kind of player you are?
Kyle Wellwood: I am an offensive player but I worry about my own zone as well. Special teams are what I want to be my forte. On the power play I want to be as dangerous as possible and that’s probably my main strength.
HF: Your Windsor Spitfires had a tough loss on Thursday night against Plymouth, but before that the team had won eight games in a row and you had been doing pretty good on the offensive end as well. What have been the keys to your team’s recent resurgence and solid play?
KW: I think it’s probably the team character we have. Everything seems to be solidified right now, from our goaltending, to our defense and to our forwards. We have all of our lines playing well together. Everyone understands their roles and we all know who’s on the first line, second line, third and the same thing with our goaltending, we have our number one (Ryan Aschaber) and we know who are back-ups are. So that’s really helped us out.
HF: This is probably your last season in the OHL. What are your personal goals for this season and what do you think your team is capable of doing this year in terms of the play-offs and beyond?
KW: Of course, I want to make it all the way. I’ve made it to the conference finals a couple of times, but to go all the way would just be a great way to cap off my OHL career. This year in terms of personal goals, I’m just going to go out and try to be consistent and stay around two points a game and see what I end up putting up in terms of numbers.
HF: Last Monday, you were named to the selection camp for Canada’s World Junior Team. How did you find out about it?
KW: My dad called my house and he said he had read it on the internet at work. It’s very exciting being invited there and it should be a lot of fun.
HF: What do you think you’re going to have to do to make the team? What role do you think you can play for the team?
KW: To make the team I think I’m going to have to come in and try to create a lot of scoring opportunities and play well coming in. My guess is that they’re going to want me to come in and be a scoring center, so that’s the role I’m going to go in and try to get.
HF: Monday was a pretty good day for the Leafs organization as they had five of their prospects invited to the selection camp. Could you give us a little scouting report on what you think these guys can bring to the team? Maybe start with defenseman Brendan Bell of the Ottawa 67’s.
KW:Brendan is an excellent defensemen and a great competitor. I’ve played him in the play-offs a couple of times. He’s got a great first pass; he can rush the puck, and is good on the power play and also is probably the best leader I’ve seen in a while for his age.
HF: A guy you know from your days in Belleville, Matt Stajan.
KW: He’s been excellent. Every time I see him play he’s 50% better then he used to be. He impresses me every time he gets out there on the ice. His skills are definitely getting better and better.
HF: The Leafs returning member, Carlo Colaiacovo.
KW: Carlo has all the NHL qualities: his size, his speed, his shot. Everything about him just screams NHL. He’s just very good.
HF: A guy from the Western Hockey League, Ian White.
KW: Ian White is one of those defensemen like a Niedermayer-type. Great on the power play, very good at getting the puck out of his end. He’s always dangerous out there and he’s fun to watch.
HF: Keeping on the Maple Leafs theme, you finally got to go to your first main pro camp in Hamilton this fall. What were your goals going into the camp, and how did you prepare or train over the summer?
KW: My goals were just to learn how good they are and what speed they play the game at and how much they’ve got to work. That’s the one thing you learn right off the bat is how much faster it is, and how much room there is to grow as a player.
HF: What were your impressions of your own performance at the camp?
KW: I thought I played very good, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement. I plan on being a lot better next year when I go back or whatever my next training camp will be. I’m definitely going to try to get my speed up and try to fit in a little better.
HF: When you talk about improving your speed, how do you go about doing that? Is it a lot of power skating or weight training?
KW: I think it’s a combination of everything. Definitely I don’t feel I skated enough before the camp. I felt like I was just starting to playing hockey again and my legs weren’t fully ready. I’m going to make sure my body is at 100% when I go into camp next year.
HF: Did the Leafs give you any feedback on your performance? Maybe suggestions on ways they’d like to see you improve your game?
KW: Yeah, definitely, they’re there to help. They said I played excellent and they were very happy with the way I played. They just said that if I want to play at that level I’m going to be have to be quicker then all the big guys and be able to get away from them.
HF: Do you think they’re going to give you an opportunity to play next year and sign you on?
KW: Hopefully I can sign on with them. That would be great, but you never know what’s going to happen. I don’t know what there plans are so I’m just waiting.
Hockeysfuture: Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. Good luck at Canada’s Selection camp and with the rest of your OHL season!
Kyle Wellwood: No problem.