The Canadiens signed defenceman Jeff Woywitka today (here’s the official announcement) and the obvious question is what does he bring to Montreal?
A 27 year-old native of Vermilion, Alberta (he’ll be 28 on Sept. 1), Wyowitka was a UFA who played the last two seasons with Dallas and averaged nearly 18 minutes a game in 2010-11. He didn’t play much at the start of last season, a healthy scratch for 16 of the Stars’ first 19 games. But he was inserted in the lineup by then-Coach Marc Crawford on Nov. 24 when Mark Fistric went down with a groin injury and Woywitka earned a permanent spot with consistent play.
“He’s done exactly what you want him to do,” said Crawford in December. “He’s taken advantage of an opportunity and he’s performed very well. That’s a great sign from any player, and I definitely think that he has gotten more comfortable playing every game.”
He’s a strong skater, perhaps his best asset, is a lefthanded shot and right now probably qualifies as a depth defenceman although he can obviously handle regular minutes in the NHL and perhaps needs to play regularly to be at his best. He likes to move the puck and can play a decent physical game. How well and consistently he does those things has always been the big questons with him as an NHLer.
Considered a two-way defenceman with good size (6-foot-3, 227 pounds), Woywitka was originally a Flyers first round pick, 27th overall, in 2001, the same year he played on the Memorial Cup champion Red Deer Rebels. He became something of a point producer in Red Deer, and a WHL All-Star in each the next two seasons. He averaged nearly a point a game in 2002-03, his last junior season and was selected as the WHL’s top defenceman.
He also played for Team Canada’s Silver Medal entry in the 2003 World Junior Championships. He was ranked 13th among North American prospects by Central Scouting in their final ranking, rising from 17th at midseason. Central Scouting praised his “strong passing skills,” his “ability to join the rush” and his “hard accurate shot from the point.” But he has not developed as a consistent offensive threat in pro hockey.
His Red Deer coach, Brent Sutter, said in the NHL’s 2001 Entry Draft Guide that, “Jeff is a solid defenceman that can play the game any way you want to. He is a 17-year-old that plays against the opposition’s top lines. He’s an intelligent player and also a great team guy.”
Wyowitka didn’t make the NHL until 2005-06 with the Blues, at 22, and by that time he had been traded twice, once from Philly to Edmonton in the deal that sent Robbie Schremp the other way, and from Edmonton to St. Louis in the deal that sent Chris Pronger north. As Blues property, he shuttled back and forth between St. Louis and their Peoria AHL team for the next three seasons before landing a regular spot in 2008-09.
He had a few scraps in his final season playing for St. Louis, but is not a frequent fighter and readers of hockeyfights.com have never given him a victory in any of the six NHL fights listed on his card. He had the reputation of a physical d-man coming out of junior with triple digit PIMs in his last two junior seasons. But once he turned pro, he focused more on his positional play and, according to Hockey’s Future.com, wasn’t considered a physical defenceman by the time he became a regular NHLer.
Dallas signed him as a free agent before the start of the 2009-10 season, after the Blues did not give him a qualifying offer as an RFA. The Stars gave him a one-way contract for the first time in his career. Terms of his deal with the Habs have yet to be made public, but he made only $700,000 last season, so he’s probably something of a bargain.
His parents own a farm in Alberta, according to this Q&A on the Stars website from 2009. He likes camping and golfing in the summer.