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Wojtek Wolski will be strong Calder Trophy candidate with Colorado Avalanche

He's a good stickhandler and at six-foot-three has the reach to protect the puck against checkers and to beat goaltenders. His shot isn't bad either. Wolski has the potential to be an impact player for the Colorado Avalanche for years to come, and he'll be a leading candidate for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year.

He's only 20.

On the eve of his first big-league game where he grew up, the son of Polish immigrants had a bowl of his mom's chicken noodle soup and happily renewed acquaintances with buddies from Western and McGill who motored in to watch him skate against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday night. Wolski had an assist as Colorado downed the Leafs 4-1.

"It's definitely been a dream of mine to play at home," he said following the morning skate.

Wolski played in Colorado's first nine games last year and was returned to the OHL's Brampton Battalion so the NHL club could avoid the 10-game kick-in of big-league contract status. They flew him back to Denver for the playoffs and now he's a full-time member of the team.

Brampton coach Stan Butler used Wolski in all circumstances last winter and extensive ice time helped him turn his game up a notch.

"It gave me the opportunity to get ready for the NHL," says Wolski.

He scored a league-best three goals in his first five games this season.

"I'm happy with that but there's always room for improvement," he said.

With so many Avalanche roster changes, Wolski doesn't have to take a backseat to anyone.

"It definitely gives me a better opportunity to stay and to get more ice time but I know I have to prove myself," Wolski said. "I'm expecting to play a lot. I'm up to the challenge."

Wes Wolski is a mason and Zofia Wolski is a homemaker. They were among more than 50 family members and friends planning to watch their son play Wednesday night.

He's not transfixed by Calder dreams.

"It's definitely something you'd like," he said. "Anytime you get an accolade its rewarding, but it's not something I focus on.

"You just want to focus on playing. If you win games, (accolades) will come."

There have been challenges along the way.

He was four when his family moved to Canada and he and his brother Kordian had to share a pair of skates when they were introduced to the sport.

During his junior career, charges were filed against him after an 18-year-old was injured during a fight at a house party. Wolski said he was going to the aid of his girlfriend. The charges were eventually dismissed.

He'd been ranked fifth among North American prospects before the incident, and some teams shied away from selecting him during the 2004 entry draft. The left-winger was still available when Colorado's No. 21 spot rolled around, and the Avs grabbed him.

Meanwhile, his brother was seriously injured in an auto accident.

"He's had the steel removed from his knee, he's in phsyio now, going to school and working for our dad so things are positive," says Wojtek.

In 56 regular-season OHL games in 2005-2006, Wolski scored 47 goals and assisted on 81. His plus-minus was plus-21.

All signs point to him being a wonderful player in the NHL.



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