During an NHL draft, nothing is ever certain. Sure, the consensus top-3 or 5 picks usually go off the board without surprise, but even then, it doesn’t happen all the time. The Columbus Blue Jackets selected Pierre-Luc Dubois over Jesse Puljujarvi or Barrett Hayton was picked by the Arizona Coyotes with the 5th-overall pick in the 2018 NHL Draft.
Even though there is much reward in picking smaller, skilled players, there is an inherent risk of injury. Teams have always coveted size, which often goes hand-in-hand with durability. However, it’s become less of a deal-breaker as the league has moved towards a speed and skill game.
It used to be that smaller players couldn’t play in the NHL because the league was too physical. However, Theo Fleury, Marcel Dionne, and Martin St. Louis found a way to make an impact despite their stature. Small forwards are more common in today’s NHL like Brad Marchand, Cam Atkinson, Alex DeBrincat, Victor Arvidsson, and Johnny Gaudreau.
They are the blueprint for aspiring undersized players to make the NHL, but they were drafted in the later rounds, if at all. The same can be said for the 5-foot-6, 176-pound winger Trey Fix-Wolansky, who slid to the seventh round (204 overall) in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft.
Steps Taken in the WHL
Like the successful NHL players listed above, Fix-Wolansky had to overcome the stigma against his size by demonstrating his speed, tenacity, and second-to-none work ethic.
He was an impact player for the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL displaying a dangerous, deceptive shot on the power play that netted him ten goals. He then elevated his play in 2017-18, his draft year, scoring 32 goals and 89 points in 71 games along with 11 power-play goals.
Heading into the Draft, Future Considerations had Fix-Wolansky ranked as the 174th overall prospect and he fell 30 spots to 204th overall. That’s when Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen pulled the trigger on the Edmonton, Alberta native.
Kekalainen was rewarded for his selection when Fix-Wolansky was named captain of his hometown Oil Kings and then had an explosive season with 37 goals, 65 assists (franchise record), and 102 points in 65 games, along with six game-winning goals and nine power-play goals. Fix-Wolansky was already a dangerous scorer and he improved the play-making side of his game during his time with the team. This allowed Kekalainen to get good value in the seventh round.
During his final season with the Oil Kings, Fix-Wolansky signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the Blue Jackets in the hopes of playing in the American Hockey League in the 2019-20 season. Most of the Cleveland Monsters’ talent was graduating to the NHL, so Fix-Wolansky earned a shot at making an impact on Monsters’ head coach Mike Eaves.
Impact Felt for the Monsters
As his final season in the WHL came to an end with a strong performance of 14 points in 16 games in the playoffs, Fix-Wolansky was given the opportunity to play some AHL playoff games in the Monsters’ second-round series against the Toronto Marlies.
Fix-Wolansky didn’t look out of place in the limited time he saw against some of the best players in the AHL. He scored his only goal in his first game on a breakaway, as he sped by the defense and put the puck through the legs of Marlies goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo. He finished the series with a goal and an assist in three games.
Many questioned whether those three games would translate to success in his first taste of pro hockey. Monsters GM Chris Clark and the coaching staff felt that he was ready for the challenge and Fix-Wolansky didn’t disappoint. In his rookie season, he scored 12 goals and 26 points in 43 games along with a team-leading five power-play goals and three game-winning goals. It was a great first step, but he began to battle injuries and inconsistency started to creep into his game.
However, when healthy, Fix-Wolansky was dominant, including a stretch of six goals and 11 points in 12 games from mid-January to mid-February. If he finds more consistency in his game, then he will be an AHL All-Star in the 2020-21 season, and it will only be a matter of time before he sees ice time with the Blue Jackets.
Ready to Breakout
Sure, being an under-sized player has its advantages if you have the skill and speed to make plays and avoid checks, but it is always an uphill battle, as Fix-Wolansky can attest. He can add his name to the list of players who have overcome getting overlooked in the Draft alongside his potential teammate, Atkinson who put up great scoring numbers at Boston College but slid down to the sixth round of the 2008 NHL Draft.
There is an opportunity ahead for Fix-Wolansky, who might get a chance to make the Blue Jackets out of camp now that Columbus muse deal with a flat salary cap for the next few seasons because of the COVID-19 pandemic. A bottom-six power-play role isn’t out of the question, although, ideally, he would dominate in Cleveland earning top-six minutes. Either way, expect big things from a small Fix-Wolansky next season.