When the Arizona Coyotes dealt former eighth overall pick Mikkel Boedker to the Colorado Avalanche last season, they got two players in return that the Avalanche didn't seem to have big plans for.
Turns out, one of those would be a key component in the success of the AHL's Tucson Roadrunners this year.
When Boedker was moved to Colorado at the NHL trade deadline last season, the Coyotes received three players in return.
The first - and most recognizable - was Alex Tanguay, who played with the Coyotes for the remainder of the 2015-16 season before his contract expired. The second was Conner Bleackley, whom the Coyotes later turned into the second round draft pick used to help land Jakob Chychrun in the 2016 NHL draft.
The last was defensive prospect Kyle Wood.
In his first full AHL season, Kyle Wood has been nothing short of impressive.
In October, he was named AHL Rookie of the Month - but he hasn't slowed down since that dynamic debut. He currently leads all Roadrunners defensemen in scoring, and is second overall on the team.
Most recently, he was named one of three Roadrunners representatives for the AHL All-Star Game.
His list of accolades doesn’t seem to stop. He’s currently 1st overall for points as a rookie defenseman. 2nd overall in goals as a rookie defenseman. 5th overall in points as an AHL defenseman. 6th overall in points as a rookie. 48th over all in points as a skater.
It's an impressive debut, for sure - but how did he get there?
“My rookie season feels good so far, but it’s all about the team right now, you don’t really look at your individual stats too much,” Kyle Wood said to Five For Howling. “You just have to focus on keeping the wins going. I feel like, yeah, I’ve found my footing in the AHL for sure, but the team has been great so far and the coaches and guys have been awesome. We’ve all been playing well and I’m getting there. As the team gets better my game is getting there too.”
In a team sport, it's almost too easy to not give yourself credit - but credit is what Wood deserves. At 6’5”, 235lbs, Wood is a force to be reckoned with.
In a 200ft game, his presence is felt in each zone of the ice.
“The numbers say I’m more of an offensive defenseman, though I try to play both ways,” Wood said. “The power play is where the points come, but I’m trying to focus more on the defensive side of my game now.”
Wood is a big-bodied defenseman who knows how to throw his weight around and take control of the puck. He has a hard, heavy shot from the blue line, and it's one that other players hesitate to stand in the way of.
In his first pro season he has notched eight goals, and 22 assists for a total of 30 points in 38 games.
Lately, the offensive numbers have slightly declined for Wood, but that’s okay. He doesn’t see this as a problem so much as him shifting focus to the other aspect of his game - defense.
“I got off to a pretty hot start offensively, but you can’t focus too much on that,” Wood said. “You have to keep focusing on your defensive game. That’s my position: defense. So that’s what I focus on the most. I’ve been trying to work on my skating and get better in that area. The offensive numbers were there for me in Juniors and they’re there for me now. So the coaches and I have been trying to fine tune the defensive side. I want to work on my skating going forward. That’s what I need to work on to get to the next level. That’s what everyone’s been telling me, and I’ve been working with the skating coaches, working on it down here.”
When you watch Wood play, you can see small aspects of his game that need work still. Aspects that are more likely than not keeping him from getting a call-up to the NHL. He could be quicker getting his shot off, and have a little more accuracy. He’s talked about wanting to work more on his play on the PK.
However, none of these finer aspects are keeping him from being successful in the AHL, clearly. In Tucson, the Roadrunners are lucky to have a strong veteran presence.
One source of veteran presence is Zybnek Michalek, who spent 13 years in the NHL before being assigned to the Roadrunners at the beginning of this season. Many of the players have talked about the presence in the room he has, the leadership he brings, and the level of play he displays.
However, Michalek (or “Big Z” as the players fondly call him) also is a reminder of the ultimate dream, of the work the players have to put in to get to the NHL. He’s a player to think about when modeling a defensive game.
In the AHL, it’s much more difficult to try to model your game after someone than it was when a player was just coming up.
“Growing up, I was a big Shea Weber fan,” Wood said when asked who he models his game after. “But now you know, when you’re one step away from where he’s playing you can’t focus on him too much. You try to focus on your own game and the strength and weaknesses you have. On being the best player you can be.”
Wood has showed nothing but hard work and determination in the AHL, and that has earned him an All-Star nod as a rookie.
You hear it time and time again, that defenseman take time to develop. It’s true. Now it might be almost time for Kyle Wood to make the jump to the NHL.
The Coyotes have actually seen their fair share of young defenseman this season. With left-handed defenseman Chychrun making the team straight out of his draft year, and Anthony DeAngelo earning himself a call-up from the AHL for a good chunk of the season, the Coyotes have had three defensemen under 23-years-old.
Calling up Wood would only add more inexperience to the roster. But with DeAngelo back in the AHL and the defensive corps struggling in Phoenix, it might be worth a shot to bring Wood up for a few games and see if he could be the right-handed shot the Coyotes have been so desperately looking to slot next to top line left-handed Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
But for now, the possibility of a call-up is not taking up too much space in Wood’s mind. This weekend, he will focus on the All-Star game, and then it will be right back to business with the Roadrunners as they try to reassert themselves atop the cutthroat Pacific Division.