Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Wellwood a small wonder

Head-turning hockey smarts start showing up on the scoresheet

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In the days of size, strength and speed, it's a wonder Winnipeg Jets forward Kyle Wellwood isn't in emergency wards more often -- scraped from the ice as the latest victim of an opponent in search of a puck.

None of this is exactly news, except that maybe his ongoing contributions are, in that context, newsworthy.

The 29-year-old from Windsor, Ont., has not lived up to his career-best numbers of last season -- 18 goals, 47 points -- but if the last week or so is any gauge, he figures to yet be an important figure in the Jets' quest for a better place in the standings come the end of April.

Tuesday's victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs was further evidence -- a first-period power-play assist and a key second-period goal from the most unassuming of NHLers, instrumental in the Jets' 5-2 victory.

"You're right, when you look at him he doesn't look like your prototypical NHL guy but he gets the job done and he's an interesting guy to be around," Wellwood's teammate Zach Bogosian said Wednesday. "He's fun.

"As far as his success, he's got all the skills in the world and you see him do some things with the puck that even some of the so-called best players in the league can't do. So he's fun to watch, that's for sure. Some of the things he does are pretty unreal, I think.

"Whether you're on the ice or watching from the bench, you kind of... if he does something crazy, you kind of look down the bench and say, 'Did you just see what he did?' Skill has been next to his name all the way back to junior and obviously he's got a special gift with the puck that not many guys have."

After four straight games in the press box, Wellwood returned last week and was reunited on a line with Nik Antropov. These recent games have again provided signs Wellwood's on-ice IQ is rarely exceeded.

"For me, it's a matter of trying to prepare and get your skills in the game up to the way you want it to be," Wellwood said Wednesday after the team's practice at the MTS Iceplex.

"You can't focus on whether you're in the press box or where you're playing or how many minutes you're getting or whatnot. You have to let your game develop and go from there.

"I'm happy with my game the last three or four weeks."

From 20 games this season, Wellwood has only two goals and five points.

"He's always going to make plays, now he's executing plays a bit better and getting results," said Jets coach Claude Noel, who sees confidence returning. "The results are the only difference. He's had chances before."

Checker James Wright is now with Wellwood and Antropov and Wellwood said Wednesday he likes the fit.

"I want to have the puck and be able to check it properly," Wellwood said. "Having our line with Antropov and Wright, Wright seems to really check well and get into the right positions and make the easy play. And then me and Antro can make a lot of area passes and handle the puck a little more. It's worked out well so far."

Wright certainly hasn't been without his chances to crack the goal goose egg he has with the Jets this season.

"(Wellwood) is a really crafty, creative guy," Wright said. "It's really fun to play with him. He set me up numerous times (Tuesday) and if I could only bury a goal, I'd have had a hat trick.

"He's really fun to play with, he makes plays, he's real creative and he makes things happen for your line."

Apart from his improving confidence and personal state, Wellwood pointed to key team elements -- in particular, chemistry -- that have boosted the Jets' record to 8-3-1 in the last 12.

"I sense that our penalty kill's gotten a lot better and that our line combinations seem to be working," he said. "If you can throw lines out there that are going to play consistent hockey with energy and move the puck, it's going to look like a lot better team game."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 14, 2013 D2

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