Well done, Mr. Wellwood

BARRY MCDONALD, 24 HOURS VANCOUVER

, Last Updated: 8:01 AM ET

He was the team leader in a number of statistical categories in the preseason, but Kyle Wellwood wouldn't have found any of them terribly flattering.

Body fat for one. Junk food consumption, another. Spare change for the vending machine perhaps.

Bottom line, he wasn't in the kind of shape expected of an NHL athlete, and he certainly wasn't in condition to play at the NHL level. The only thing he earned was a moniker; it was "Well Fed" instead of Wellwood.

It had been a while since the local sports media and fan base had a field day with an athlete who couldn't quite grasp the commitment to conditioning.

Today's athletes don't use camp to get into shape, they are in shape when they arrive. Not Wellwood. His conditioning was "not up to NHL standards" according to Alain Vigneault.

To Wellwood's credit, he worked hard during camp, hoping to close the gap on those who had the conditioning deal figured out. Close, but no cigar, and no job at the NHL level, as the Canucks banished him to the soon to be frozen tundra of Winnipeg.

At that point Wellwood was 95 per cent sure his NHL career was done. He had to clear waivers on his way down, and then again when he got recalled because of an injury to Pavol Demitra. When you clear waivers twice in a matter of days, 29 teams don't think you have anything to offer. When you get dispatched to the minors by the one team that has given you a chance, the message is pretty clear. Getting another chance with Demitra getting hurt, put Wellwood at the crossroads of his career.

You know the rest of the story. In his past seven games, Wellwood scored six goals. After Tuesday's victory over Nashville, 409 players in the NHL had scored at least one goal this season. Only 16 had more than Wellwood.

He has stuff you don't teach. His offensive zone I.Q. might not be off the charts, but it's up there. He has hockey hands. Soft, able to caress the puck, not maul it. He is comfortable under duress, not prone to giving the puck away, or making an ill-advised pass.

It's a pretty cool story. He seems to sense the opportunity before him, and seems to have a level of appreciation for it. Better late than never.


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