The kid's all right

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:36 AM ET

There was a time in the Pat Quinn era when a rookie would go a month without enough action for four points, let alone get them all in one night.

But the new National Hockey League and the sudden kid-friendly environment around the Maple Leafs has seen a mass breakout from the playpen.

When the dust settled Monday night in a 9-6 win over the New York Islanders, Kyle Wellwood had a goal and three assists, with Matt Stajan supplying two goals, including the game winner. Wellwood's total was the best for a Toronto rookie since coach Quinn arrived in 1998.

To be fair, the Leafs haven't drafted high in recent history, thus the scouting department and farm system weren't exactly sending him blue-chip prospects through the pipeline. At times this year, however, Quinn has been comfortable enough to use a Kid Line of Wellwood, recently arrived Swedish freshman Alex Steen and second-year Leaf Matt Stajan.

In Wellwood's case, the four points moved him within one of the injured Steen's total of 20.

At first resigned to staying in the American Hockey League another year with the Toronto Marlies, Wellwood has weaved himself into the team fabric and has become a fan favourite with his dynamic playmaking.

"It's awesome," he said of the NHL life. "It has been a lot of fun so far, playing on this team and seeing how much they love hockey in this city."

At 5-foot-10, Wellwood is at least two inches shorter and twenty pounds lighter than the minimum requirements for a usual Quinn forward. But Wellwood picked a good year for a breakout.

"The new rules have really helped me," he said. "I'm not really getting out-muscled and the other team can't grab you. If you play good positional hockey and you're smart with the puck, you'll also be pretty good defensively."

Off the ice, Wellwood is often seen in the company of Steen, Stajan and defenceman Carlo Colaiacovo. The Leafs haven't really had a Young Guns gang of note since the Gary Leeman-Russ Courtnall-Wendel Clark years in the 1990s.

"We go to movies, hang out, go to dinner and socialize," Wellwood said. "Me and Staje have a lot of things in common, but Alex is kind of quiet and goes his own way.

"The older guys have been teaching us a lot and making sure we're doing the right things on and off the ice. They say Toronto is a lot smaller city than you think. You have to watch what you are doing and make sure you're a professional at all times and be a good role model for everybody."


Videos

Photos