Wojtek Wolski was born 25 years ago today in Zabrze, Poland. By the time he was 5, he and his family had immigrated twice: first to Berlin, Germany (age 2) and then to Toronto, Ontario (age 4). As his family had little money, Wolski learned how to skate on an outdoor rink using his brother's skates which were two sizes too big. The young Pole stuffed multiple layers of socks, as well as newspaper, into them in order to make them fit. He attended his first NHL game at Maple Leaf Gardens where he saw the Toronto Maple Leafs square off against the Colorado Avalanche. The Avs quickly became his favorite team, and Wolski spent his life idolizing Joe Sakic.
In 2001, the 15-year-old started playing for St. Michael's Buzzers of the Ontario Provincial Junior Hockey League. In 33 games, he put up 16 goals and 33 assists for 49 points. He was drafted third overall in the Ontario Hockey League draft, and the following year, he began a lustrous career with the Brampton Battalion where he finished with a total of 366 points in four seasons (including playoffs). By the time he left the Battalion, Wolski had 14 franchise records and still holds, among others, Most Goals (47), Most Assists (81) and Most Points (128), all coming in the 2005-2006 season, as well as Most Career Goals for a regular season at 328.
In 2002-2003, he played for Ontario's Under-17 team in the 2003 Canada Winter games and, in addition to being the alternate captain, he finished third in scoring for the tournament. That same year, he played with Sidney Crosby on Team Canada at the 2003 Under-18 World Cup tournament and was again honored with the A. He was also selected for the OHL's All-Rookie Team. In 2003-2004, he continued to make a name for himself by leading the Battalion in scoring (29-41-70), being named to the OHL's First All-Star Team (2nd in Batallion history), receiving the OHL's Top Draft Prospect Award, and playing in the 2004 OHL All-Star Game.
In the 2004 NHL draft, Wolski was selected in the first round (21st overall) by his favorite team, the Avalanche. Many clubs were reluctant to select him as he had recently been charged with assault causing bodily harm for allegedly beating and hospitalizing another 18-year-old. The charges were dropped when it was discovered that he was defending his girlfriend, whom the guy had shoved off of a porch.
After another great year with the Battalion when he led the team in scoring once again, the Polish immigrant made an argument for being considered one of the elite in the sport during the 2005-2006 season. He started the year with the Avalanche (becoming the third youngest player to skate for the Avs), playing in 9 games and recording 6 points. Three of those points (1g, 2a) came in one game on October 10 vs. Calgary. After returning to the Battalion, he continued to impress: OHL Player of the Year, William Hanley Trophy for OHL's most sportsmanlike player, 3rd in OHL scoring (47-81-128), OHL player of the month for 4 consecutive months, MVP for the Eastern Conference All-Stars, and setting the aforementioned records. He finished the season back with the Avs, playing in 8 post-season games. He became only the fourth player in franchise history to record three points in his first playoff appearance (Michel Goulet, Peter Stastny, and Anton Stastny). It seemed the Double-Dub was headed for great things in the NHL.
Wojtek began playing with the Avalanche straight out of training camp for 2006-2007. That season, he averaged 15 minutes per night and tallied 50 points in 76 games (4th among rookies). He also participated in the NHL's Young Stars game on January 23rd, assisting on two goals. The next season, he finished 3rd in assists for the Avs with 30 in 77 games. He shared the team lead in game-winning-goals at 6 and recorded his 100th career point on March 24th, again vs. Calgary.
In The Season that Shall Not be Named, Wolski become the King of the Shootouts. He posted a remarkable 12 out of 14 record for an 83.3% success rate, both of which were good for the league lead. That year, he also tied the NHL record for most shootout goals in a single season (Jussi Jokinen). He also finished the season third on the Avs in scoring with 42 points (okay, so it wasn't hard to be third that year) and was first in takeaways (70). On January 4th, he played in his 200th NHL game.
2009-2010 was Wolski's best season in the NHL to date. He set career highs in goals (23), assists (42), points (65), games played (80) and plus/minus (+21). He began the year with the Avalanche, playing in his 300th game and scoring his 100th assist. On March 3, 2010, he was traded to the Phoenix Coyotes in a deal that brought Peter Mueller and Kevin Porter to Colorado. In The Game That Shall Not be Named, he scored a Goal That Shall Not be Named, continuing a long-held tradition by former Avalanche players. He would go on to score at a point-per-game pace with his new club and finish the season as the Coyotes' points, assists and plus/minus leader. In the playoffs, he topped the team in goals and was tied for second in points.
Over the past couple of years, Wojtek has become a verb. His tendency to be lazy during his shifts evolved into the term "Wolski-ing around," referring to players that float during plays and wait for the puck to come to them. His first impression on the Phoenix fans and coaching staff was that this was a Colorado behavior and that he would rise above it with his new team. The end of the 2009-2010 season indicated this might be true. However, the 2010-2011 season saw the return of the Wolski-er, and he quickly found himself in the doghouse with his new coach. 16 points in 36 games will do that to you. After being a healthy scratch multiple times and getting limited minutes in games he did play, Wolski asked the Coyotes' GM to be traded. (Coincidentally enough, the guy for whom he was traded - Mueller - did the same thing.) Wolski got his wish and, on January 10, 2011, he was traded to the NY Rangers.
Once again, Wolski came out like gangbusters with his new team, scoring the GWG in his first game. He's gone on to put up an impressive 12 points in 19 games and regain his reputation as a shootout master. However, also once again, his lack of effort and defensive liability are getting him into trouble with his third NHL coach. Time will tell if he shapes up or if the Rangers do as his two previous teams did and ship him out. Next stop: the KHL? If so, it would be a sad end to what looked to be an amazing NHL career.
Other current records for Brampton:
Most assists in a season (81)
Most career power play assists (83)
Most career power play points (141)
Most career short-handed goals (9)
Most career game-winning goals (18)
Most points in one game (7)
Most goals in a game (4 - tied)
Most career playoff games (31)