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Wolski gives Avalanche best of both worlds
Karl Samuelson | correspondent
Feb 13, 2007, 12:00 PM EST

The race for the Calder Trophy boasts another bumper crop of rookies this season including forward Evgeni Malkin, who is providing spark for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Matthew Carle, an offensively gifted defenseman who is averaging 19 minutes of ice time per game with the San Jose Sharks, and center Anze Kopitar, who has been a standout with the Los Angeles Kings. But don’t think any player has a lock on the award. Not by a long shot.

Keep an eye on Paul Stastny of the Colorado Avalanche and Dustin Penner of the Anaheim Ducks; both are enjoying outstanding freshman campaigns. And don’t forget the Avalanche’s other rookie phenom - Wojtek Wolski, who got off to a great start with three goals in his first four games. Today, Wolski ranks among the league’s rookie leaders in all offensive categories including goals, assists, points and shooting percentage. He joins Stastny to form one of the elite young tandems in the league and provide the Avalanche plenty of reason to be optimistic about the future.

"They are both young kids that we think have tremendous offensive upside,” says Colorado head coach Joel Quenneville. "Wolski has an NHL shot that is quick and has some pace to it. He is big and strong and he can also make plays. He and Stastny had some chemistry right out of training camp. Wolski’s future is great.”

His past is not too shabby either.

Colorado’s first-round pick (21st overall) in the 2004 Entry Draft earned the Red Tilson Trophy as the most outstanding player in the Ontario Hockey League last season where he collected 47 goals and 81 assists in only 56 games with the Brampton Battalion. He added a second piece of silverware last season as the recipient of the William Hanley Trophy for being the league’s most gentlemanly player. All of these awards came after he made an impressive NHL debut in 2005-06 by notching six points in nine regular-season games with the Avs.

That type of production would usually mean “Go get an apartment kid, you’re staying with the big team.” But patience is a mantra in Colorado and being a minus player during his debut last season, Wolski returned to his junior club for an extra year of seasoning.

Did Wolski sulk about the detour? No. The kid has too much character. That character comes to him naturally as the son of a Polish stonemason who journeyed to Canada after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Wojtek was only 4-years-old when he moved with his family to Mississauga, Ontario. They were short on money when they arrived in their new land, but long on character. That quality showed through in Wolski last season as he embraced the challenge of returning to junior hockey - much to the chagrin of his OHL opponents.

"Character… that’s why he was able to go back to junior and take off,” says San Jose Sharks Chief Scout Tim Burke. “He comes from a good family, a hard-working family that came over from Poland. He’s a good kid. You don’t get ‘I’m this and I’m that.’ He didn’t go back (to junior) with an attitude that 'I’m coming back from the NHL.' Being sent down … that’s a rude awakening. He wasn’t in the NHL last year for just a week. Wolski was there longer than most guys and then when Colorado sent him back he led that Brampton team and he didn’t miss a beat.

“There was no lackluster play,” continues Burke. “What a year he had last year! He dominated the league and people talk about him on the power play, well, you should have seen him in junior. You name it … shoot … look away and shoot … bang … he surprises you … quick diagonal passes. Wolski is gifted. He’s exciting. I watched him a lot in Brampton because we had a kid that was drafted there. Wolski played pretty good in Colorado last year and then they sent him back to junior and he tore that league up. That’s the good thing about this kid, when he came back he was exciting.”

The 6-foot-3, 200 pound winger again showed his character after being a healthy scratch against the Anaheim Ducks on Nov. 22. What did Wolski do about it? He let his actions do the talking, responding with a four point night on Nov. 25 and figured in all goals in the Avalanche's 4-1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks. That takes character. But not character alone. It also takes a ton of talent.

"He’s got a lot of moves,” Burke said. “He’s got stronger and he can really find secondary options. This kid is a good player, a real good player. I don’t know if he is going to end up being a center or a wing, but from an offensive standpoint of a hockey player being able to make quick plays and use the puck with speed this kid has got it. I think he’s like a hybrid because he can both shoot and pass.”

The Avalanche team captain agrees.

"Wojtek is big, he’s crafty with the puck and he has a lot of speed,” says Joe Sakic. “He used his size well and he has a great shot. There’s not too many guys that go to the net like him. He gets that puck and he challenges the defense. He is an exciting player and is always in the right spot.”
Wolski admits to being in the right spot in more ways than one.

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