NEW YORK - OCTOBER 31: Wojtek Wolski #86 of the New York Rangers is challenged by Michal Handzus #26 of the San Jose Sharks at Madison Square Garden on October 31, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
The former first-round Draft pick will try to recapture his once-promising form in Washington
Wojtek Wolksi entered the NHL with a lot of promise six years ago, having the pedigree of being a first-round pick of the Avalanche in the 2004 draft and the MVP of the Ontario Hockey League before joining Colorado late in the 2005-06 season. With the Avs, he found quick success, notching 10 points in his first 17 games.
After putting together a 50-point full rookie season in 2006-07 - earning a spot in the NHL's YoungStars Game - Wolski seemed to plateau in Colorado, notching 20 goals in two of his first five full seasons. While the Avs had hoped Wolski would provide some offensive spark, he didn't take the next step and was eventually traded to the Coyotes in a March 2010 trade.
Wolski's production suffered in the desert, and after subsequently being traded to New York in January 2011 and then to Florida in February 2012, he had gone from a player who scored 128 points in one season in juniors to being known as an NHL shootout specialist rather than a scorer.
He notched just 16 goals - total - in his last two seasons in the league, and was injured and healthy scratch for portions of last season before being dealt to the Panthers, who looked to utilize his skill in the NHL's tiebreaker procedure.
Now, the Pole will look to resurrect some of his faded promise in Washington.
After earning $4 million last year in the second year of a $7.6 million deal signed with Phoenix, Wolski signed a one-year deal with the Capitals for just above the league minimum, $600,000 - $384,000 less than he earned in his first year in the league on a rookie contract.
The 26-year-old knows with his declining numbers - he had just 4 goals and 8 assists in 31 games with the Rangers and Panthers last year - that his career is at a "crossroads" and will look to jump-start his numbers in Washington.
"I had one bad year [in 2010-11], and then this year was tough with the [sports hernia injury] and I had surgery," Wolski said via conference call shortly after his signing on Wednesday. "This upcoming year is a great time for me to bounce back and to show I'm still a great player and still have a lot of life left in me."
With the offensive skill around him with the Capitals, Wolski is excited to try and beef up his goal production.
"I definitely think I can help on the offensive side," he said. "I struggled the last two years, but I'm definitely highly motivated, very excited and very hungry ... I look forward for the opportunity to play with some great players and think it's going to be a very positive year."
One of the reasons Wolski signed with the Capitals is the hiring of their new coach, as one of Adam Oates' former pupils in New Jersey highly recommended him.
"I've heard great things about [Oates]. Adam Henrique from New Jersey actually told me he helped him a lot this year, and taught him a lot."
For the Capitals, while it may be a stretch that Wolski can help fill the top six forward role they need with the apparent departure of Alexander Semin as Wolski indicated he had a shot at doing, at a cost barely above league minimum, it certainly is a gamble that is low-risk. He certainly has the talent to contribute, without committing a ton of money if the experiment pans out.
Wolski was not a fit under John Tortorella's system in New York - ironically similar to former Capitals coach Dale Hunter's system - but certainly with Oates behind the bench will get more offensive opportunities than in Phoenix or New York. And, Wolski knows he will need a turnaround season to fulfill his high promise.
Wolski has shown some promise during his tenure in Colorado, and paired with former Avalanche teammate Matt Hendricks, Washington has two players who are considered shootout specialists for those bonus points during the regular season.
"[Hendricks] was actually my roommate in Colorado," Wolski said. "He's a great guy and happy he's having a lot of success."
Now, with a chance to remake his career with a one-year deal in Washington, Wolski heads into a new year with a positive attitude.
"I think Washington's a great fit," he said.