VANCOUVER, B.C. – Kyle Wellwood has heard the jokes about being out of shape while walking around with his shirt off, and suffering the humiliation of being sent to the minors twice.
All this after coming to Vancouver soon after the Canucks claimed him off waivers in June, spending gruelling weeks with conditioning coach Roger Takahashi and going on a special diet.
Cut adrift after four years with the Toronto Maple Leafs, he’s feeling good again and making the most of his second NHL tour of duty with Vancouver.
Wellwood, a five-foot-ten, 180-pound native of Windsor Ont., who signed a US$997,500 contract with Vancouver, became the Canucks’ leading scorer Tuesday by firing two goals in a 4-0 win over the Nashville Predators.
He has six goals in seven games since being called up from American Hockey League’s Manitoba Moose when Pavol Demitra suffered a rib injury.
“For any athlete or professional, it’s about yourself personally playing the game and that’s where you’re going to find the happiness,” Wellwood said.
“Not being able to play, feeling unhealthy and out of shape you’re not going to feel so happy and confident. That was my main goal. I didn’t care too much where I was going to play. I just wanted to get back.”
He began to feel better about his start to the season when he rejoined the Canucks in Columbus on Oct. 18.
“It was a tough haul,” said Wellwood, who opened the scoring on a second-period power play. “There was some disappointment but fortunately for me, I got my hockey game back and that’s what makes me happy.”
His teammates are pretty happy, too.
“He’s been a key player for us and the guy we actually look to to carry a line and he has that ability and I’m real happy for him,” said defenceman Willie Mitchell.
“He had a few pounds on and he’s starting to get those off. I do have a lot of respect for how he plays the game. I think he’s exceptionally smart out there.”
While Wellwood’s first goal was jammed past netminder Dan Ellis, his second got full marks for artistic impression. Wellwood won the puck off a scrambled face-off, stickhandled into the slot and fired post and in.
“I felt pretty good and when you’re feeling good out there, you know it doesn’t last forever but you hope it does,” Wellwood said.
Mason Raymond followed Wellwood’s goal on Vancouver’s first power play with one on the Canucks’ second man advantage. Daniel Sedin completed the scoring by shovelling in twin brother Henrik’s rebound off the post.
Goalie Roberto Luongo had some tough early saves but recorded his third shutout of the season and second in four games with a 24-save effort. The Canucks limited Nashville to four third-period shots.
They were also better on the penalty kill after giving up three power-play goals in a 3-2 loss Sunday to the Detroit Red Wings.
“The whole unit on the ice was doing a great job,” Luongo said of killing six Predator power plays. “We were talking about it the last couple of days and making sure we were keeping the puck on the outside. For me, it’s easier on my reads and easier making saves.”
Predators centre Jason Arnott, who hit the post 2:30 into the game, said the Canucks’ ability to score often gets overlooked.
“They always play well against us and they’re a great hockey team, there’s no doubt about it,” Arnott said.
“Right from Luongo out to the Sedins, they’ve got a lot of scoring power. They don’t get a lot of credit, they play well a lot”.
Nashville coach Barry Trotz said Wellwood’s second goal killed any chance of a comeback.
“Their power play got them a couple goals and ours wasn’t good at all tonight and that was the game for me.”
NOTES: The Canucks brought up right-winger Michel Ouellet from Manitoba on re-entry waivers … Jason Krog went the other way. … The game was the first of six on the road for Nashville. … Trotz was behind the bench for his 750th game, all with Nashville. … The Canucks won three of four games against the Predators last season … Canucks tough guy Darcy Hordichuk played 172 games for the Predators over the last three seasons.