Ex-Leaf Wellwood finding his stride

Former Leaf Kyle Wellwood is making a case for the league’s comeback player of the year, as the quarter-pole of the NHL season approaches.

Waived by Toronto this past summer after his work ethic came into question, Wellwood scored the opening goal of the first game against his former club as the Canucks handled the Leafs 4-2 at GM Place on Saturday. On the play Wellwood took a pass from Pavol Demitra and went upstairs on Leafs goalie after winning battle to the front of the goal against his former Maple Leaf, OHL, and Team Canada World Junior teammate, Matt Stajan.

“I was definitely happy to get one!”, said a beaming Wellwood, whose 7 goals lead all Vancouver shooters. “Coming into the game, there were some nerves and some excitement.”

After reporting to training camp out of shape, Well wood was called out by head coach Alain Vigneault and on October 17, was placed on waivers for the second time in just over two months. Any of the 29 other NHL teams including the Leafs could have claimed the 25-year-old Windsor native, but there were no takers.

Four days later, Wellwood’s NHL career was granted a stay of execution after Demitra went down with a cartilage injury and the Canucks’ AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose, had a surplus of veteran players.

Wellwood was inserted into the lineup against the Columbus Blue Jackets and, sensing that this would be his final opportunity to stay in the National Hockey League, responded with a goal and an assist. The crafty centre has not been out of Vancouver’s lineup since then.

Wellwood credits his new commitment to fitness as the key to his success. “I’m able to skate hard every day. The training I put in is starting pay off.” And, he simply laughs off the fat jokes directed at him by fans. “I’m 185 pounds, I’m not overweight or fat.”

Rob Del Mundo is the author of Off The Post, a regular column at TMLfans.ca