Monday night, Kyle Wellwood was the bomb.
He scored the first goal of the game, dished out an assist and then fired home the shootout winner as the Winnipeg Jets beat the Florida Panthers, on the road, 4-3.
It was Winnipeg’s fourth win of the season and the goal that got it started just so happened to be Wellwood’s fifth of the year, tops on the Jets.
In fact, if it weren’t for Wellwood’s skill, speed and playmaking ability, the Jets would probably not be as good as 4-6-1 early in this 2011-12 season.
It’s been quite a comeback for a guy who was run out of Toronto on a rail and was given little or no chance in Vancouver; a guy, who couldn’t make the San Jose Sharks last season and even struggled with Atlant Moscow of the Kontinental Hockey League.
As a matter of fact, the 28-year-old Wellwood, scored five goals in 35 games with San Jose last season and just three in 25 games in the KHL. Eight goals in 60 games is a far cry from five in 11. This year, he’s been living proof that if a legitimate goal-scorer and playmaker gets plenty of ice time on a good line, he can be a very good goal-scorer and playmaker. Funny how that works.
Now, in fairness, Wellwood isn’t lighting up the clock in terms of ice time. In fact, while he played 16 minutes and 14 seconds on 21 shifts against Florida, he had been averaging barely 11 minutes and 14 shifts in the previous five games. After playing a four-game stretch with plenty of ice time between Oct. 13 and 19, his shifts suddenly diminished until Monday night.
Now there isn’t anybody in Winnipeg — or anyplace else — who will try to figure out Claude Noel’s formula for using his employees. However, you have to wonder if Noel knows what Wellwood has been doing.
The veteran centre from Windsor has five goals and three assists so far this season and in four of the five games in which he’s scored, the Jets have won. He had a goal in the team’s first win, a 2-1 victory over Pittsburgh on Oct. 17 (he played 17:13). He had a goal and an assist in the team’s 5-3 win over Carolina on Oct. 22 (and played only 12:10). He had a goal in the Jets 9-8 win over Philly last Thursday (and played just 11:07). And had a goal and an assist in Monday’s win over Florida (he played 16:14). The only other game in which scored, the 4-3 heartbreaking loss to Chicago, the lost but should not have lost.
Through it all, Wellwood is a plus-two on a minus team (the Jets have scored 30 and had 39 scored against them), so it’s pretty hard for Noel to suggest that the undersized forward (5-foot-10, 180-pounds) is a defensive liability. A fifth-round pick in the 2001 NHL entry draft, Wellwood has developed into the surprise of the young season. He even set the franchise record by scoring eight seconds after the opening faceoff in the win over Pittsburgh.
In fact, while he once played on a line with Alexander Burmistrov and Nik Antropov, he’s now playing with Andrew Ladd and either Evander Kane or Bryan Little. Regardless, even Noel will admit that players want to play with Wellwood because he handles the puck and makes quick, accurate, smart passes
“I’m getting a new start with a new GM and a new coach,” Wellwood said in Toronto earlier this season. “Maybe I’ve found a place more permanent.”
One hopes. Kyle Wellwood has been as good a player as Noel sent over the boards this season. Still can’t understand why the coach doesn’t use him a little more.