Break ill-timed for Leafs rookie

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 12:48 PM ET

When Kyle Wellwood wakes up on Tuesday for the Maple Leafs' first game after the Olympic break, he is going to pretend the past couple of weeks never happened.

The rookie centre thought he was getting into a nice groove when the hiatus interrupted the National Hockey League schedule for 16 days.

"I had a good couple of games there and I was not pleased with the timing of the break," the 22-year-old said. "I was seeing the ice better and I was a little less nervous with the puck. But I think my body used the break well and hopefully I will come back even stronger."

There is not much to complain about regarding Wellwood's play. The 5-foot-10, 180-pound centre failed to crack the roster out of training camp. But he was recalled by Toronto for the second game of the season after captain Mats Sundin suffered an eye injury in the opener against the Ottawa Senators. Wellwood has appeared in every game since, and has 31 points (nine goals and 22 assists) in 56 matches.

Although those are nice numbers, and not unexpected given Wellwood's skills on offence, he is tied for the Leafs lead in plus-minus with a plus-5. Of his 31 points, 17 have been scored at even-strength. That's tied for third on the Leafs at even-strength, with fellow rookie Alex Steen, and behind Chad Kilger (19) and Jason Allison (18).

"The style of the (open) game is beneficial mostly defensively for me," Wellwood said. "Offensively, I liked the traffic because I like to make quick, small plays. The more open ice does not help me as much as you would think (on offence). (Being successful)at even-strength is what I have to bring to the table."

Wellwood has seen mostly third- and fourth-line duty, and as a result is averaging just more than 12 minutes of ice time. For now, that is not a concern for him.

"If I got any more, I would be pretty tired," Wellwood said. "The amount of skating as a centre you have to do nowadays is more, especially with the two-line pass. You really have to be on the backcheck fast."

Wellwood spent much of the break at his condo in Windsor, regrouping for the final push. He is ready for it.

"This is a time where it is going to get exciting and you really hope you have it in you to succeed," Wellwood said. "I'm happy. I want to come back fresh and strong and produce something in the next 25 games."


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