There have been countless times when a young player is rolling along in what could only be considered the beginning of his big breakout – and then injury strikes. Said player, upon returning, struggles to get back on the line he was clicking with and into the situations he was in before. Perhaps the struggles last until the end of the season and then off-season personnel changes make it tough to get on track again in the fall.
We’ve seen it hundreds of times. More often than not, the player either fades into oblivion (Daniel Corso comes to mind) or reinvents himself as a checker (Marty Reasoner comes to mind). But two players who have gone through this journey may actually be bouncing back – Kyle Wellwood and Jiri Tlusty. It does happen (Danny Cleary comes to mind).
But first, let’s examine what happened with Reasoner. He posted 34 points in 54 games over parts of two seasons (1998-2000) as a rookie with St. Louis. Minor, nagging injuries combined with a new-look team at training camp the following year (2000-01) saw Reasoner struggle to produce. After that, the only way he could stick in the NHL was to excel in a depth role. But had he remained healthy and had he started his hot run earlier in the 1999-00 campaign – and thus had more time to build up momentum and a reputation – we could be talking about Reasoner in a different light today.
Corso, another St. Louis farmhand (just a coincidence – these are two guys who popped into my head first when thinking up examples), posted 10 goals in 28 games as a rookie in 2000-01, while Reasoner sunk into a slump. After a tough training camp on a new-look team and a dislocated shoulder the following season, Corso was spinning his tires. Unable to reinvent himself, he has since floated between the American League, Kontinental League and other European leagues.
In the case of Wellwood, here is a player who followed up a 45-point, 81-game rookie season in 2005-06 with 42 points in just 48 games as a Leafs sophomore. Production-wise, you couldn’t ask for a better start to an NHL career. But then he opened 2007-08 on the shelf with a groin injury and nothing went right after that. He had 87 points in the first 129 games of his NHL career – and was trending upwards – but recorded just 86 in his next 243 games leading up to this season.
Stints in Vancouver and San Jose landed him third-line jobs. He showed flashes of production, but was on too short a leash for the coaches to put up with his slumps.
All that has changed in Winnipeg. On a Jets team with six or seven forwards capable of producing around 60 points, but zero 70- or 80-caliber guys (at least for this year), Wellwood is getting more power play time and better linemates. So far he’s lined up with Alexander Burmistrov and Nik Antropov and lately he’s played with Andrew Ladd and Bryan Little. The result has been eight points in 11 contests.
Now Wellwood just needs to stay healthy and, at least early on, avoid any four- or five-game slumps. If he produces reasonably well and a slump like that hits in February, he’s probably safe. But if the slump happens in November, things will work out for him about as well as they did in Vancouver and San Jose. That is to say, he’ll be lucky to get 40 points.
As a 20-year-old, Tlusty garnered 66 points in 66 games for the AHL’s Toronto Marlies in 2008-09 and performed decently for the Leafs with four points in 14 contests that season. But injuries and a poor training camp conspired to keep him out of his rhythm the following season and he was traded to Carolina.
Last season there was another injury and a season to forget. Like Wellwood, Tlusty has been written off in most keeper leagues and was not even considered in one-year drafts.
But hold up. Now he’s seeing time with Eric Staal and, more importantly, he’s producing. He has points in three straight contests and in six of his past nine. In his past four games his ice time has hovered around the 15-minute mark. Is the 13th overall pick from 2006 finally hitting his stride? If Tlusty stays healthy and, as I noted before with Wellwood, if a slump doesn’t strike in the early going, his career could turn around.
Both of these players are worthy of a short-term pickup. But it wouldn’t shock me if one or both remained on your squad all season.
Skilled players sometimes never make it in the NHL because they are missing a key ingredient. But sometimes, a skilled player never makes it because of an untimely injury, a contradictory coaching style, a coaching change, team depth, or an ill-timed slump. That hot prospect you had a hunch on, but never panned out? That may not have been a knock on your ability to evaluate. It may just have been an unlucky combination of some of the causes above.
Darryl Dobbs’ Fantasy Pool Look is an in-depth presentation of player trends, injuries and much more as it pertains to rotisserie pool leagues. Also, get the top 300 roto-player rankings on the first of every month in THN’s Fantasy section. Do you have a question about fantasy hockey? Send it to the Fantasy Mailbag.