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Early treats of the NHL season

Kyle Wellwood has five goals and eight points in 11 games. (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Kyle Wellwood has five goals and eight points in 11 games. (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)

Happy All Saints Day everyone – otherwise known as “my stomach hurts from eating too much candy” Day.

It’s the time of year when early-season surprises begin to either slip back to reality or form into a trend. There’s still a lot of hockey to be played, but it’s also getting close to crunch time for teams such as the Blue Jackets and Bruins.

So, with Halloween behind us, here’s a look at a few treats from across the league so far.

KYLE WELLWOOD, WINNIPEG JETS

I’ve always thought this guy got a bad rap. Have one picture of your roly-poly self next to the pool circulated around the Internet and suddenly your reputation as a professional athlete takes a hit. Go figure.

Even though the Sharks didn’t re-up Wellwood, their coaching staff loved what he brought to the table. The trouble with Wellwood, though, is that he’s not really good enough to be in the top-six of a Stanley Cup competitor and his style of play doesn’t fit into the grinding mentality of the third or fourth line. Still, he brings an incredible set of hands and patience with the puck that sometimes works against him because he ends up waiting too long or making one-too-many moves.

But look at him now in Winnipeg. Where Wellwood’s style often leaves him as the odd man out in the depth chart, it also makes him a versatile option. He’s not the most appealing part, but he’s capable of being placed anywhere in the lineup.

"Kyle Wellwood has been a good player for us and to unclog a line we've used him to move into that situation,” Jets coach Claude Noel said after Monday’s 4-3 win against Florida. He's a guy that a lot of guys want to play with. He's a really good thinker, he creates things and he's dependable. For us he's been a really good player and I can put him in any situation. He can win faceoffs and he's reliable. He's been really good and for us he's been a big help."

I’m not expecting him to stay on his 37-goal pace, but he’s better than he’s often given credit for.

SEMYON VARLAMOV, COLORADO AVALANCHE

I never understood the shock with which the Varlamov trade was greeted in the summer. It was no doubt a risky proposition for the Avalanche, but it wasn’t so risky the whole franchise would come tumbling down if it didn’t work out. I think this comes back to how first round picks are overvalued by onlookers quite often – but that’s a topic for another day.

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Since first appearing with the Capitals in 2008-09, Varlamov’s save percentage has always been in the pretty good-to-great range and that has just continued with Colorado. Consistent No. 1 goalies are hard to come by, so when you get one you better hold on to him. Varlamov certainly has the ability to fit into the role, but the knock on him continues to be his health. He’s been a treat for the surging Avs so far, but if his past groin injuries flare up again he’ll quickly turn into a nasty trick.

JAROMIR JAGR, PHILADELPHIA FLYERS

It’s just a treat to have this legend back in front of us, but the fact he’s been a contributor to one of the better teams in the league just makes this story all the better.

Expectations were naturally tempered for the 39-year-old, though his offensive skills still place him up there with some of the best in the game. He’s in the middle of a seven-points-in-four-games hot streak and will likely exceed the totals a lot of people expected out of his return. Other teams should have ponied up the cash to acquire him. ‘Jammy’ is a treat any day of the week and he’ll continue to be until he calls it quits for good.

RYAN NUGENT-HOPKINS, EDMONTON OILERS

For all the talk of how small RNH is and how he wouldn’t take to the NHL right away, the 2011 first overall pick has been tantalizing to watch.

His points have been fairly spread out over the 11 games he’s played and clearly going back to junior was not the best route for this particular 18-year-old. He’s fit in perfectly with Edmonton’s other fresh-faced scorers who have this team off to a great start and have Edmonton fans buzzing. Any time you have a youngster like this come in and put this kind of mark on the league it’s exciting.

Add the fact he plays on a rising Oilers squad and the treat extends from the player to the team as a whole.

 

Rory Boylen is TheHockeyNews.com's web editor. His column appears regularly only on THN.com.

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