Just over four weeks ago, Kyle Wellwood thought his NHL career could be over.
Today, he's the Vancouver Canucks' top goal scorer with six goals in 11 games this season.
What a difference a month makes.
After arriving at training camp out of shape, Wellwood was a healthy scratch for Vancouver's first two games of the NHL season before seeing action in a 5-1 loss to Washington on Oct. 13.
Four days later he was placed on waivers, and 24 hours after the league's 29 other teams took a pass on him, the Canucks sent him down to play in the minors with their American Hockey League affiliate, the Manitoba Moose.
But Wellwood never even made it to Winnipeg. Two days after being demoted, the Canucks recalled him from the AHL after fellow forward Pavol Demitra suffered a rib injury. Wellwood cleared recall waivers and took advantage of his second opportunity with the Canucks by scoring a goal and adding an assist in a 4-2 loss to Columbus.
He thought his days were numbered in NHL
It's been an unforgettable start to the season for a player who believed his days in the NHL were numbered.
"I gave myself a five per cent chance that I would be back in the NHL this year. I didn't feel that good on the ice. I played pretty well in pre-season, but I didn't have that jump that you need to have on the power play and as a puck handler in the NHL," Wellwood told CBCSports.ca.
Wellwood, 25, admitted that while it was nerve wracking to be placed on waivers, it also gave him the opportunity to re-focus and get his head straight.
"I didn't feel comfortable but the three or four days I had while I was on waivers and wondering what was going to happen, it allowed me to focus mentally," explained Wellwood, a native of Windsor, Ont.
Of course, overcoming personal adversity is nothing new to Wellwood, who was claimed off waivers by Canucks general manager Mike Gillis in July when the Toronto Maple Leafs cut him loose.
A fifth-round pick (134th overall) in the 2001 NHL draft, Wellwood showed great promise during his first two campaigns with the Maple Leafs, but collected only 21 points and posted a minus-12 rating in 59 games last season before being put on waivers by Toronto.
Wellwood used that experience to help him stay mentally strong when he was put on waivers and then demoted by the Canucks.
Waiting for a turning point
"I've had some setbacks in the last year and a half, so it just felt like another day," laughed Wellwood. "Things hadn't been going good for me hockey-wise for quite a while, so I was just waiting for a turning point when I could get some ice time and play and rebuild my game."
Since being recalled, he's looked solid while playing on a regular line with Steve Bernier and Taylor Pyatt, as well as logging ice time on the power play with Henrik and Daniel Sedin.
"The Sedins really like to handle the puck, so you have to be patient, stay in an open area and eventually the puck will get to you," Wellwood said.
"Bernier and Pyatt are easy to play with because they're so good on the boards, and they forecheck real hard. For me, I get to play in the slot and let them do their work in the corners."
The highlight of Wellwood's return to the NHL came in a 4-0 win over the Nashville Predators on Nov. 4. After scoring his second goal of the game, the Vancouver crowd erupted with chants of "Wellwood, Wellwood."
Wellwood didn't even notice.
"You know what, I missed it. I didn't know about it until the end of the game. My mom was at the game, though, so for her it was really exciting," he said.
Future still uncertain
As for Wellwood's future, Demitra is on the mend and could be back in the lineup this weekend when the Canucks host the Leafs. His impending return means coach Alain Vigneault will have a decision to make in terms of who won't dress, leaving Wellwood's status up in the air.
"I'm not sure what's going happen," Wellwood admitted. "Pavol is going to come back, and some other injured guys are going to come back. We've got a lot of depth at the forward position, so it's going to be a battle for everybody in the lineup to find their place."
But whatever happens — whether he stays with the Canucks, is put on waivers again, or sent back down to the AHL — chances are Wellwood will take it all in stride.
"Things can go wrong for you pretty quickly. You could be called back by your NHL club within two weeks and told you've been sent down again. Things happen all the time, but for now it's just nice to have success and be playing for an NHL team again," Wellwood stated.