Overlooked Wellwood Shining for Sharks

SAN JOSE- If Sharks defenseman Niclas Wallin is still known as the “Secret Weapon” with San Jose as he was with Carolina, what does that make first year Shark forward Kyle Wellwood?

Unsung hero? No, that’s too vague and overused. Dark Knight? No, too many people think of the Batman films whey they hear that. Energizer bunny? That’s reserved for the Sharks’ center Scott Nichol.

Truth is finding something to call the Sharks’ mid-season acquisition is almost impossible. But that doesn’t lessen the fact that the soon to be 28-year-old Wellwood certainly deserves a nickname for his unique play making style.

The Windsor, Ontario, native has often been overlooked because of his size (listed at just 5’10, 181 pounds) and spent the first portion of this season playing in Russia’s KHL, before signing a one-year deal with the St. Louis Blues midway through the season. As per NHL rules, Wellwood had to pass through re-entry waivers where the Sharks claimed him in mid-January.

While Wellwood posted only 13 points in 35 regular season games for San Jose (a full season average of  30 points), he is no stranger to contributing offensively as a top-six forward.  Before getting injured during the 2006-07 season, Wellwood posted 41 points through 48 games as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs and it should come as no surprise that he is contributing significant offense with the Sharks.

However, with the likes of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dany Heatley, Joe Pavelski and the rest of the dynamite forwards the Sharks have, it is easy for fans and media alike to lose sight of the contributions of a forward who rarely sees power-play time.

That said, thus far in the postseason, Wellwood has chipped in six points (1g, 5a = 6p) in 10 games, good enough for a tie for fifth in playoff scoring on the Sharks and tying him with the likes of Pavelski, Heatley and defenseman Ian White, all of whom have one point more than Marleau, Devin Setoguchi, and Torrey Mitchell.

With nearly unparalleled creativity with the puck and incredible patience, Wellwood has been as solid as any Sharks forward in the postseason.

“Part of trying to get goals five on five is finding guys cross ice. It’s difficult to score if you don’t make a good pass” mentioned Wellwood, who has two assists thus far in the Detroit series.

As most hockey players are, Wellwood was more inclined to give credit to his teammates when asked about his crafty style of play.

“Guys here are all really good passers” he added.

As for his blind pass to Dan Boyle on the tying goal late in Game Three against  Detroit?

“Just one of those things, your down by a goal with three minutes left. It’s not something you do if you’re up a goal but you got to take some chances” Wellwood recalled. “You throw it to a spot and hope your teammate finds it.”

It may have been a lucky pass, but those types of plays have been typical of Wellwood since joining San Jose and his contributions aren’t lost on his teammates who were more than willing to chime in on Wellwood’s behalf.

“He’s not a big guy but he’s very strong on his skates” commented Sharks alternate captain Ryane Clowe. “He goes into corners and he’s hard to knock off the puck.  I played against Welly in the AHL and he’s got some shifty moves up his sleeve…he’s got a lot of patience. Sometimes you think he’s going to finally give it up [but holds onto it] and that’s a credit to his poise.”

Not only has Wellwood shown great board work throughout his career but as San Jose Mercury News beat writer David Pollak pointed out awhile back, Wellwood’s point totals have actually increased in the postseason—even before joining the Sharks.  In 373 regular season games, Wellwood has chipped in 173 points for a .46 per game mark. Yet in 32 career playoff games, Wellwood has tallied 19 points, for a .59 per game mark.

Wellwood definitely brings a bit of that clutch factor with those types of numbers; another attribute the Sharks could always use more of as they look to close out Detroit in Sunday’s Game Five tomorrow night.

“I was surprised he didn’t have a job to start the year” commented Sharks rookie Logan Couture. “He’s been a big boost for us, he controls the play, really slows it down. He’s made some great passes this series to Boyler back door, he’s such a good player.”

The Phoenix Coyotes had Kyle Wellwood in training camp but elected not to sign him.

Now he’s a Shark and a significant contributor to a team that is up 3-1 on the Red Wings in the Western Conference semi-finals while Phoenix and St. Louis are hitting the golf courses right now.

Things worked out great for Wellwood, and only time will tell if his presence was just one of the missing pieces to San Jose’s Stanley Cup puzzle.

Right now, it sure looks that way.

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