When you pull up Kyle Wood’s numbers, the position he plays for the Tucson Roadrunners is not plainly obvious.
I mean, when a rookie in the AHL has 16 points (4G, 12A) through 13 games, you’re probably going to guess the guy is a forward on the team’s top line.
But the 6-foot-5 prospect in the Arizona Coyotes system is really a defenseman.
Wood is only 20 years old, and is playing his first full season at the AHL level. He did play two games for the Springfield Falcons last year once he was eligible age-wise.
“It was good to get some experience at the end of the year last year,” he explained. “I got a couple games, and then you just try and go into camp, figure things out, figure out the game and the speed, and the coaches have been great with me so it’s been easy to play with them.”
That experience may have helped him get out to a six-game point streak to start the year, and he currently has seven points in his last three contests.
Both him and Brendan Perlini are 20, playing their first year at this level, and are both getting well-adjusted to this higher skill level of hockey.
“We spent some time together,” Wood said of his relationship with Perlini. “We were together at camp, and you just try to work together with all the young guys, and that’s who you basically hang out with mostly.”
“Just stay in the moment, and all the guys are kinda like that,” Perlini added about the duo’s mindset. “He’s got a good attitude, works hard every day, and hopefully he can keep progressing. Staying hungry, wanting to get better every day, and want to improve, and hopefully go up to the NHL.”
Where a lot of Wood’s points have come from is the Roadrunners’ deadly top power play unit, which has been the most productive power play unit in the entire league by far, cashing in on 31.3% (21-of-67) of their man-advantages.
“It’s definitely clicking,” Wood explained. “After Tony (Anthony DeAngelo) got called up, I was put on that first power play, so I’m just trying to help out wherever I can, and the guys have been setting me up perfect. I’m just trying to get pucks on net and create some offense that way.”
“As far as the success goes, it’s all about executing,” Perlini added. “We work a little bit on it in practice, but honestly we just do it in a game. It just comes down to who can execute it.”
“They’re on a roll,” Zbynek Michalek continued. “It’s the reason we’ve been winning so many games, and they’ve got all the confidence when they go on the ice.”
Ever since Craig Cunningham suffered his medical episode that has kept him in the hospital, Henrik Samuelsson has joined in on the power play mix, and has blended in very easily, picking up his first goal of the year in his second game with that group.
“They’ve obviously had a lot of success so far this year, so it’s nice to play with them because they’re really good playmakers,” Samuelsson explained.
So how does Wood get all these points, especially on the power play? The answer’s easy from everyone on the team: The one-timer.
“Growing up, I always had a hard shot,” Wood said of his elite one-timer. “I think the first year in junior, I was put in the power play, and that’s the spot I was in, so I was just trying to find success there, and that’s a good spot to be in. You’re always a shooter from there.”
“He’s got a heavy shot, and learned to shoot it when he’s supposed to,” Samuelsson added. “But he’s got the hardest one-time I’ve seen, so it’s been nice to see him score a lot. It’s hard and it’s accurate, so it’s good to have on the power play for sure.”
“When you see him loading up, it’s time to get out of the way and let him shoot,” Perlini joked. “I just try to give him a good lane because I’m in front of the net because it’s obviously coming in fast, so if I get a little screen on the goalie, he can wire it.”
“His shot is his big thing,” Roadrunner head coach Mark Lamb tacked on. “When he gets that shot through, it’s hard for goalies to see. If you can get him the puck in the right spot, he can score from anywhere; his shot’s just that good. We call it an NHL shot.”
“He shoots the puck like Shea Weber,” continued Lamb. “That’s who he shoots it like. He’s a big, right-hand D that is skating.”
“It’s hard to compare him to anyone,” 12-year NHL veteran Zbynek Michalek explained. “He’s using it right now. Whatever it touches, it seems like it ends up in the net, so keep riding him and always gets it through it seems like.”
A few of the Roadrunners were playing against each other in the Ontario Hockey League as recently as last year, but some rivalries date back five years or more. But Wood and Perlini’s is one of those that goes back a few years, and was within the same division in that league.
“You always recognize him because he’s so big,” Perlini said of his recollection of Wood in the OHL. “That was the main thing, and their team always blocked a lot of shots. But obviously he shoots the puck pretty well and pretty mobile for a big guy.”
“I didn’t really play against him that much because he was more the offense and I was more the offensive defenseman as well,” said Wood. “I just remember some of the things that he was doing like scoring goals and the celebrations and stuff like that, but nothing too special.”
For a player that’s 6-foot-5 and has always had a hard shot, it’s not surprising that he’s always been more of the offensive-minded defenseman.
“I like jumping into the play and creating things that way,” Wood added about his offensive mindset. “Growing up I was a little slower, so it wasn’t that much like it, but I’m just trying to do my thing and help the team out in anyway I can.”
But there’s always room for improvement when it comes to his defense.
“I think it’s getting there,” Wood said of his development this year. “I’m just trying to focus on the defensive side. The points are there, but I still think there’s things to focus on with the defensive side of things for sure.”
“When you’re young and that big, it’s tough,” Perlini explained of Wood’s defense. “Some guys kind of have to grow into their bodies, and I think that’s one thing I’ve noticed. He’s just more mobile. Even from last year playing against him in the O to this year, he’s a better skater than I thought he was. He moves well for how big he is.”
“I think it’s a lot of the little things that he’s doing,” coach Lamb added. “His shot’s always been there, but he’s got all kinds of confidence, he’s playing a lot of minutes.”
“He’s got a lot to learn, but his development is coming right along,” continued Lamb. “He’s not only shooting the puck, but he’s making big plays too. The offense comes out on the power play, and that’s what you have to do. To really improve, and to move on and to be a good pro, you gotta play D. You gotta learn how to play D, and you always gotta go back to that base.”
“He’s still learning,” Michalek added about Wood. “It’s his first year pro, and there’s still a long ways to go, but he’s off to a great start obviously and it’s not just about his shot, but overall, I think his game is getting better: defensively, skating, making plays with the puck, and you can see it helps his confidence.”
After having played almost exclusively in Ontario and the Northeast, Wood, just like the rest of his teammates, have had to make the adjustment to living in Tucson.
“It’s been nice,” he said of living in Arizona. “I went to camp to figure out Phoenix and stuff like that, but here it’s been great so far. We have a good setup here, the fans have been awesome, and the rink’s looking good.”
“We’re just trying to play well as a team, and things have been going great so far.”
They have certainly been going great for Wood. The team sits atop the Pacific Division with a 9-2-2 record, and he is T-2nd in points for rookies, and also T-2nd in points among all AHL defenseman.
Enjoy him while you can Tucson, because he’ll be moving on up to the parent club sooner than later.