Seeing the future of the Flyers in Eric Wellwood’s skates

If you’re reading this then you probably already know. . .

The Flyers WEST, ahem, the LA Kings, a ragtag crop of former Flyers and their pals, have sold their souls to someone other than the Devil, apparently, and claimed the Stanley Cup for themselves — and a coast that barely knows what ice is.

But I’m not bitter (I’m a little bitter), I’m hopeful.

The Kings can have Mike Richards and Jeff Carter (and Simon Gagne, etc.) because the Flyers have Eric Wellwood, someone that few people outside of Philly have properly noticed.

There are few speed metaphors that don’t sound so clichéd they obscure the phenomenon they intend to express, but the first time I noticed Wellwood, it really seemed like he’d been slingshot across the ice.

“Who is that guy?” I asked my dad as we sat, just above center ice at the Wells Fargo Center, watching Wellwood streak back and forth across the ice so fast it looked like he was traversing a frozen kiddie pool. He’d just been called up from the Adirondack Phantoms.

Wellwood is not to the Flyers what Chris Kreider promises to be for the Rangers. He’s not the next Kid with a capital S. No, he’s not that kind of rookie, but since that early March game I’ve been watching Wellwood closely. Here’s what I’ve noticed: Wellwood scores goals, but he isn’t a goal scorer — yet. Sometimes he overskates the puck, slicing past the black disc on breakaways even when the defenders are so far behind him the cameraman must pan away to locate them.  And often, when he does shoot, the puck seems magnetically compelled to hit the goalie square in the chest padding.

That’s probably frustrated a lot of Flyers fans this year, exhausted by half-raised arms repeatedly drooping to their sides after watching him dart out on many a rip-roaring breakaway with no impact on the scoreboard.

But I find possibility, not frustration in those youthful misses. What’s more important to me is that he is always there, even if he’s there before the play actually arrives. He’s so quick and fluid you’d imagine his movement could resurface the ice better than any Zamboni.

Philly.com called him an “elevator player” for his ability to flit between lines, using his skating skill to make himself a presence. You can imagine that despite his novelty, any of his linemates feel comfortable and confident to have him on their line, even if he doesn’t put one in.

I love his energy, reliability, tempo, and commitment. I love that he is a utility player, not an attention hog.

I love the way he skates hockey. That’s right: skates hockey. That’s what he does.

But I have to be honest. On some level, I think I see so much potential in Eric Wellwood because I don’t just appreciate his playing style, I identify with it.

As a competitive figure skater turned high school hockey player, I was a fast and confident skater. Transitioning between defense and offense was no problem for me because no matter where the play was, I was usually in the fray, backchecking or forechecking with the sort of spring in my stride you only see in people who learn to skate with a toepick.

But to this day, skating is mostly where the confidence ends as my body, the stick, and the puck struggle to achieve something approximating synergy.

In a sport where skating ability is assumed, and goal scoring and fighting are paramount, a young player with so much grace and strength on his feet alone is refreshing and auspicious for the Flyers — and maybe just a tiny bit validating for me?

For Wellwood, it suggests there’s plenty more skill where those wheels came from.

The hands and the timing will come for Wellwood as he collects more NHL experience, ideally with the Flyers. With the help of a collection of forceful and impressive young teammates, I predict Wellwood could be the unsung, but invaluable engine of a team with a Stanley Cup in its future.

You heard it here first.

So this year, because of Eric Wellwood, when anyone says, “Better luck next year!” I actually believe it.

Photo credit: Michael Miller

Yael Borofsky is a writer, editor, and Philadelphia sports fan. Follow her on Twitter @yaelborofsky.

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