Every NHL fan can come up with a handful of underrated players and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Kyle Wellwood’s name on many of those lists. The 29-year-old Wellwood recently signed a one-year contract with the Winnipeg Jets after playing with the club last season and then becoming a free agent on July 1. Wellwood will reportedly be making $1.6 million, which will represent his biggest ever contract.
This is the fourth straight season Wellwood has been inked to a one-year deal. It seems the league’s general managers just don’t trust him even though he’s played consistently good hockey over that period. The last time the 5-foot-10 centerman received anything longer than a year was back in 2007 when the Toronto Maple Leafs gave him a two-year extension.
Wellwood broke into the NHL back in the 2005/06 season after an excellent junior career which saw him score 344 points in 224 games. The Maple Leafs drafted him in the fifth round with the 124th overall pick. He scored 142 points in 156 American Hockey League (AHL) games while learning the ropes in the pro ranks. He then showed just how skilled he was when he reached the NHL by scoring 11 goals and 34 assists for 45 points as a rookie. He played in just 48 games the next season and added 42 more points on 12 goals and 30 assists.
His third season in Toronto wasn’t quite as successful as he registered just eight goals and 13 assists in 59 games and was a minus-12. It wasn’t really much of a shock when the Leafs gave up on Wellwood. They’ve given up on so many youngsters in the past and that’s a main reason they haven’t made a Stanley Cup final series since last winning the Cup in the 1966/67 season.
But being let go by Toronto wasn’t what hurt Wellwood the most. He had suddenly been labeled as somebody with a lot of talent and potential, but came with a poor work ethic. This rumor spread like wildfire throughout the league and Wellwood didn’t do himself any favors when he showed up out of shape at training camp in 2008 with the Vancouver Canucks.
Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault didn’t hide the fact from the press and Wellwood’s reputation was tarnished even more. However, he still earned a spot on the team and even though was used as a third-line center, managed to rack up 18 goals and nine assists. It seemed Wellwood’s fine play might be rewarded by Vigneault the next season, but the opposite was true as his ice time was reduced by about 10 per cent and he finished the season with 14 goals and 11 assists.
When the 2009/10 season came to an end Wellwood was let go by the Canucks and he signed with Atlant Mytishchi of the Russian KHL (Kontinental Hockey League). He didn’t stay long in Russia though; playing just 25 games and scoring five goals and three assists, and he joined the NHL’s San Jose Sharks midway through the season. He managed only five goals and eight assists in 35 games with San Jose and his shooting percentage also dipped to 10 per cent.
Wellwood packed up his bags again after the season since the Sharks didn’t re-sign him and he headed back to Canada, where he signed with Winnipeg. He equaled his career high of 18 goals during the 2011/12 season and added 29 assists for a personal best 47 points in 77 games. He also raised his shooting percentage to 19.4, which was another career high mark.
There doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with Wellwood’s work ethic as he’s been a minus player in just one of his eight NHL seasons. He also appears to have the grit and determination needed to succeed in the playoffs and has 20 points in 40 postseason contests with a plus-four rating. Wellwood made just $700,000 with the Jets last season, so he’s more than doubled his salary. But after finishing fifth in team scoring and first in shooting percentage in limited ice time, the Jets are still getting one of the best bargains in the NHL in Wellwood.