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BLUELINES: Kyle Wood: Grass is greener in Arizona

Being highly coachable has always been one of Wood’s great attributes

"Bluelines" is written by Ranjan Rupal, the play-by-play voice, and Greg Theberge, a former Memorial Cup winner and Washington Capitals defenseman and hockey analyst for The OHL Tonight on CogecoTV.

In the end the Colorado Avalanche put their 3-wood back in the bag and went with a rental. 

Then again, with over 200 golf courses, perhaps there’s no better place for a 3-wood than Phoenix, Arizona.  Of course, around here, 3-wood refers to the towering North Bay Battalion defenseman Kyle Wood who wears number 3, and who was included in an NHL trade deadline deal that saw the Arizona Coyotes ship unrestricted free agent Mikkel Boedker to Colorado, and saw veteran Alex Tanguay, along with the rights to an NHL first rounder in Conner Bleackley, presently with the Red Deer Rebels, and Wood, an NHL third rounder, heading to the desert.

The transaction reminds us of Nick Paul, another North Bay Battalion star who was involved in a midsummer trade when the Ottawa Senators acquired his rights, along with right-winger Alex Chiasson and left-winger Alex Guptill, along with the Dallas Stars’ second-round selection in the 2015 NHL Draft in exchange for former Brampton Battalion centre Jason Spezza and right-winger Ludwig Karlsson.

Only twelve short months since skating at Memorial Gardens, the trade has worked out well for Paul, now playing with the NHL club after three-quarters of a season with their AHL affiliate in Binghamton.

Wood might end up being the beneficiary of similar good fortune.

What we do know for certain is that the Avalanche blueline was getting crowded with Francois Beauchemin, Erik Johnson, Tyson Barrie, Nick Holden, former Owen Sound Attack Chris Bigras, Eric Gelinas, Andrew Bodnarchuk, Zach Redmond and the injured Brad Stuart nailing down spots.  Waiting in the wings in San Antonio are a trio of NHL first round picks in Duncan Siemens, Brandon Gormley and former London Knight Nikita Zadorov.

The dotted line between Wood and Arizona was drawn by the Coyotes’ director of amateur scouting Jeff Twohey, the former general manager of an Oshawa Generals club that was swept by the Battalion in the 2014 Eastern Conference finals.  Paired with Brenden Miller in that series, Wood emerged as a force on the blueline, recording two game-winning assists in the four game series.

“When NHL teams are making trades sometimes they’ll consult you,” said Battalion head coach Stan Butler, “but I think, in Jeff’s case, being a former general manager of the Oshawa Generals, and being from Peterborough and watching the games in the League a lot, I think he had formed his own opinion on Kyle and, obviously, they felt that he was a good piece of the puzzle to get that trade done.”

CogecoTV hockey analyst Greg Theberge agrees.

“I feel that Jeff Twohey would appreciate a Kyle Wood for his size,” said Theberge.  “Jeff was with the Petes organization for over 20 years and he has seen some huge defenseman walk through that dressing room.  You can’t teach size, and Twohey knows, first hand, the value of a Chris Pronger or a Zach Bogosian.”

It is widely known that Wood has been working hard to earn a pro contract this season, and that Colorado had been watching both his injury status and development closely, lately sending a scout, if not two, to Memorial Gardens.  With a glut of riches in the defensive pipeline, the Avalanche could afford to be judicious, especially since Wood had missed the equivalent of an entire season to injuries. 

For the Avalanche, parting with Wood ends up being the price of doing business, and the change of scenery could prove to be a blessing in disguise for the affable Wood, who was pleased with the welcome he received from Arizona.

“After practice Jeff Twohey called me and talked to me about the trade,” said Wood, as he taped his stick before practice.  “He talked about what I needed to work on and said they were really excited to have me, that they had a lot of young forwards, and not so many young D, that they were excited to get that part back in the trade.”

As the surprise of the seeing his name on the trade ticker fades, Wood is able to get back to work, and continue the strong progress he has made this season.  His nearly point per game pace is one of the reasons that the Battalion has transitioned from a club on the rebuild into an Eastern Conference contender.

From my vantage point in the broadcast booth, his value to the team is undeniable.  Blessed with a 6-foot-6 frame, Wood uses his big body profitably, extending his impossibly long reach to swipe pucks away from marauding opponents, often at his own blueline, effectively defusing situations long before they have a chance to become dangerous.

On the powerplay Wood has honed his craft considerably over the past few seasons.  Parked at the top of the left wing faceoff circle, Wood eagerly awaits saucer passes from teammates Cam Dineen and Mike Amadio.  The sight of Wood reaching back should trigger a goaltender’s internal “pull up! pull up!” cockpit alarms, but too often the sound they hear is the whizz of a slapped puck as it screams past the ear, sometimes the wicked clang of a bar-down, other times nothing but net, but always the blaring Memorial Gardens horn shortly after.  In fact, one of the key reasons for the Battalion’s resurgent power play over the past two seasons has been Wood’s lethal one-timer, or the time and space created for his linemates by the threat of it.

With Wood likely headed for the AHL’s Springfield Falcons next season, Butler and his defensive coach Ryan Oulahen have but a few months to mold him into yet another future NHLer.  Though the clock is ticking, Butler knows that it takes time for a young defenseman to understand the full potential of a 6-foot-6, 223-pound frame, and that there is still work to be done.

“Sometimes he gets caught standing still and that was one of the things that Colorado was concerned about,” explained Butler, not one to mince words.  “He’s a big body.  With big players it takes them a while to get their skating going.  We’re trying to make sure that he understands that it’s a cue, get your feet moving, pick it up, pick up the speed.”

“I think that’s the biggest thing for him to play in the American Hockey League next year, and the biggest challenge for him is that he has to play with pace.”

But being highly coachable has always been one of Wood’s great attributes, and his overall package is one of the reasons why, at the end of the day, the Coyotes’ organization may end up winning the Boedker trade.

“Stan wants me to always keep moving, finish my checks, close down plays quicker, and get my gap up there,” agreed Wood.  “You just have to listen to the coaches and try and work on things in practices.  Sometimes Ryan Oulahen and I watch video and see what I need to work on in the defensive zone and I work with Cam Dineen as well, trying to work together and communicate better out there.

“I just want to do whatever it takes to help this team win.”