2004 Prospects: Q&A with Wojtek Wolski

By Glen Jackson

Wojtek Wolski (pronounced Voytech Vulskee) stormed onto the prospect scene during the 2002-03 with a stupendous rookie season with the OHL’s Brampton Battalion. He ended up as an all-rookie, finishing with 57 points (25 goals, 32 assists) in 64 games. He continued to add to his accomplishments at the 2004 Top Prospects game in January, winning the puck control drill in the skills competition, scoring a goal and being named the MVP for Team Cherry.

Ranked third among North American skaters by the Central Scouting Service in their mid-term report, it would appear that Wolski has a legitimate chance to go in the top 10 and also might be the first OHL player selected in the 2004 Entry Draft.

This season a depleted Battalion team battled to make the playoffs and had an upset in the first round over the second seeded Ottawa 67’s. With the Battalion season in jeopardy in the second round, Wolski played through a separated shoulder injury and did well in a losing effort, ending up with 5 goals and 3 assists in 12 playoff games.

Wolski is a skilled player who continues to grow in size and has the potential to be one of the better power forwards in the game one day. In addition to all that, he is a complete person with a good attitude, which should make him even more attractive to teams trying to decide who to select in the first round of the draft.

Hockey’s Future recently caught up with the 18-year-old left wing and
chatted via phone about a wide range of topics including his past two
seasons with the Battalion and the upcoming Entry Draft. >

HF: How’s your shoulder doing?
WW: Fine, it’s totally back to normal.

HF: I found some conflicting data on your physical attributes with a swing of 3 inches in height, and up to 20 lbs in weight. For the record, what’s your height and current weight?
WW: 6’3”, 202 lbs.

HF: Is this a hectic time for you even with your OHL year done? What have you been doing lately?
WW: I’m working out six times a week (laughs). I’m working out more than I’ve worked out ever in my life. Usually I go five times a week but lately I’ve been doing three workouts plus cardio bike and then the other three days I run five kilometers a day and workout.

HF: You’re expected to go in the top 10 in this year’s draft. When did you first start believing this might be possible for you?
WW: I think at the beginning of the year, once the ratings came out and all that, and I was going under-18. It was something I thought maybe this is what I’m supposed to do for the rest of my life as a career. Once that came around I was pretty happy about it and definitely wanted to pursue it and be an NHL hockey player.

HF: So you’ve done everything you can to meet that goal then…

WW: Yeah. Now it’s just, you know, the specifics. Work on the little details. I know I have the talent, now I just have to get stronger and be able to compete at that level.

HF: Who were some of the biggest influences on you in hockey up to this point in your career?
WW: Definitely my father, my mother and even my brother. They brought me towards hockey and pushed me to try to be the best. Especially my dad, he’s always had me doing extra things at home. Running stairs. We lived in a building so I used to run stairs a lot, and running outside. So definitely my family.

HF: So your older brother was a big influence?
WW: Yeah, he started playing hockey because his friends at school played hockey. I just wanted to do whatever he did. We have a good time together and I’m really happy that he wanted to play hockey.

HF: You guys wore the same skates growing up. What happened to him, why isn’t he in the league (laughs)?
WW: I don’t know, I guess he started too late. He started when he was 12 years old, so that made a big difference. I started when I was seven. It also helped out that he started off and then he could help me out. And I got to play with him all the time, so everything I did I was doing with kids older than I was. I went to hockey school and I was going with kids five years older than me so it helped out.

HF: You were the OHL player of the week in your very first week in the league, a rookie of the month in December that year, and first team all-rookie at the end of the season. Did you expect that kind of immediate success?
WW: I don’t know if I expected it at the beginning but as the training camp came in and the season started I thought, ‘it’s not that hard’, and I had a lot of help from my teammates and the coaching staff. They were always trying to help me so a lot of credit goes to them.

HF: That team was a successful one last year. Are there any Battalion players in particular that helped you with your game, or made your rookie season easier for you?
WW: Definitely, I think Jay McClement and Kevin Young. They definitely helped me out. They were both older players and pretty talented players. Jay McClement is a world class player and he played at the World Juniors and he did the little things. You know, just getting on the bike, stretching after practice. Those kinds of things to keep your body healthy. So seeing him, and seeing him in practice helped out a lot, and playing with him. And Kevin Young, he’s a very talented player and he kept things light in the room. If things weren’t going my way he tried to help me out and would say, “Don’t worry about it, you’re young, and it can only get better.” So he helped me out a lot.

HF: This season, on a team that wasn’t as deep, you were named first team all-star for left wing and led the team in scoring. How would you compare your experiences of your two years with the Battalion?
WW: I think they were very different. Last year we came into the year not knowing where we were going to finish and then we pulled off a pretty good year, finishing first in our division. And then we did alright in the playoffs in the first round. The second round was a different story. This year we came in thinking we were ranked very high and the expectations were very high, and not meeting those expectations at the beginning as a team was kind of disappointing and then it just seemed it was getting worse as the year went on, and then at the end we picked it up and we played very well and made the playoffs, and we had a big upset in the first round (over the Ottawa 67’s) so that was pretty rewarding. This year we definitely faced a lot of adversity. We had a lot of ups and downs but I think it was good for the younger players especially, to help them develop. And especially for me, going through the ups and downs and realizing that it’s not always going to be going well. So I think that’s going to help out.

HF: Did your individual role with the team change a lot? Were you already expected to be a leader in that second year?
WW: Yeah, I think I definitely was. We had a lot of the old guys leave so I think we’re going to be a younger team even next year, we’re going to be rebuilding. So I think I was put into a leadership role this year a little bit, and definitely next year.

HF: You played in the Top Prospects game for Team Cherry and you were the MVP for the team. You seem to have success everywhere you go, and in that game you had the added pressure of scouts focusing on everything you did. After a performance like that, especially in your draft year, do you start thinking about how that will impact your stock at the draft, can you help that?
WW: I don’t know. I guess it’s kind of weird because it seems as though if you’re doing things well and you’re being successful things just stay the same, and then if you have a bad game here or there everyone kind of hears about it. So when you’re doing well I guess the expectation is that you’re going to do well so it doesn’t really make a difference and then if you have a bad game here or there it’s kind of made into a big deal so I don’t think it’s really changed my opinion of where my stock is much.

HF: So there’s just a lot of pressure all the time for you.
WW: Yeah.

HF: What do you think is your greatest attribute as a player? Or, what part of your game do you take the most pride in?
WW: Probably my offensive skills. I can put the puck in the net, and have a pretty good ability to use the players around me. I think I make the players around me a bit better because I give them more opportunities to score and to help the team out.

HF: And what about as a person?
WW: I like to be the funny one. I like to get to know everyone. I’m pretty talkative and I like to chat it up and have a good time.

HF: What do you feel, or have been told, is the most important thing for you to work on to break through at the NHL level?
WW: Get stronger. Every year you see NHL players getting stronger. Even the veteran players, you see they’re working harder because they know the younger generation that’s coming in is working very hard. So I think I just want to get stronger and I think I can put on a lot of weight since I’m pretty tall and I haven’t filled out yet. So I think as I get stronger I’ll be able to work harder and compete harder.

HF: You had a taste of international experience with the under-18 team. What was that experience like for you?
WW: I guess it was pretty fun to make that team, but it would have been a lot better if we would have had a better finish. We finished fourth and that was very disappointing. I guess anytime you play for your country you want represent proudly and you want to be successful and bring back the gold every time because that’s what Canada expects, right? So it would have been a lot better if we would have won but it was still pretty fun.

HF: You saw time on a line with Sidney Crosby. How would you like to be reunited when he gets drafted in the NHL?
WW: Yeah, Sidney is a great player and he’s got a lot to offer. Anytime you have someone like that on your team and even better on your line it’s great.

HF: You played for Team OHL in the CHL international series with a few games against the Russia Selects in late 2003. Was that the same sort of international experience even though you were close to home?
WW: It was a little bit of the same. But we were close to home so it kind of just felt like another game.

HF: Just like an exhibition?
WW: Yeah. But I guess it would have been a lot better if Russia had brought a stronger team. We had a very strong team from the OHL so it might have been a lot more fun if it had been more competitive.

HF: What do you like to do in your time away from the rink?
WW: I like to spend a lot of time with my friends if I’m not working out or at the rink. I think friends and family are really important and every time you get support from them you want to give back and make sure you show them respect and show them that you care about them as well.

HF: Do you have a favorite hockey movie?
WW: I like Youngblood.

HF: Who is your favorite past or current NHLer?
WW: I really like watching Dany Heatley and Rick Nash. I think Rick Nash definitely because I have the same agent as him (laughs). So every day I hear something about him from my agent and I’ve been on the ice with him and he works very hard so I like watching Rick. And Dany Heatley is a great player. He’s faced adversity and he’s even come through it and he’s still playing really well, and he’s playing really well right now in the Czech Republic (at the World Hockey Championship). So it’s great to see that they’re both having a lot of success.