By Dan Sernoffsky
Daily News Sportswriter
Lebanon Daily News
HERSHEY, Pa. – Yeah, he was drafted, but it wasn’t like there were going to be any huge headlines or major celebrations.
And, given the way his professional career started, things weren’t particularly promising on that front, either.
The Minnesota Wild took Kyle Wilson in the ninth round of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. At the time, he had just finished his sophomore season at Colgate.
Wilson stayed at Colgate, and last season capped off his collegiate career with 23 goals and 41 points. But no one was ready to rush him into the NHL. In fact, no one was rushing him into the AHL, either. He signed an AHL contract with the San Antonio Rampage but found himself one of the extra forwards on the team. Through San Antonio’s first 15 games, he played in just seven, scoring one goal. The Rampage sent him to the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL.
After five games with the Stingrays, Wilson’s fortunes took a decided turn for the better. Thanks to recalls and injuries, the Hershey Bears were in desperate need of some help at center. The Bears turned to the Stingrays, and Wilson found himself heading to Hershey. He arrived in time to dress for a game against Manitoba on Dec. 2, and in his debut, scored two goals in a 5-2 Hershey win.
Kyle Wilson had found a home.
“When we brought him up, it was out of a need through injuries,” said Hershey coach Bruce Boudreau. “(Hershey president and general manager) Doug (Yingst) knew Kyle Wilson and said this guy is supposed to be a pretty good player. We phoned down to Fitzy (South Carolina coach Jason Fitzsimmons), and Fitzy said ‘yeah, he is a good player in South Carolina.’ We brought him up and almost instantly he started playing well. He’s just gradually taken over and become a very big part of this team.”
How big? Sunday night, Wilson scored three goals, the fourth Hershey hat trick of the season. More importantly, it made him the sixth player to score 20 or more goals for the Bears this season, not a bad production number considering he’s played in just 41 games for the Bears.
“When I got here,” said Wilson, “there were a lot of guys in the system. I was expecting to come up and get a couple games in, and hopefully be one of the guys they call up, first on the list to come back up. I ended up sticking around. I’ve been pretty happy and been working hard, and it’s worked out well for me.”
With Wilson, the Bears also got a bonus. It’s turned out he’s rather effective on the power-play.
“What can you say about Kyle?” asked Matt Hendricks, who has been Wilson’s linemate recently, rhetorically. “He’s been playing great for us ever since he got here. This was really his coming out week. With (leading scorer) Alex Giroux out of the lineup and (fourth-leading scorer) Tomas Fleischmann not here, he was the quarterback of the power play and he made some great plays.”
Eight of Wilson’s goals have come on the power-play, ranking him second on the team in man-advantage scores.
For Wilson, it all comes down to confidence, and the chance to play.
“In San Antonio, I was playing left wing and I wasn’t getting many shifts,” he said. “I’d just go out there and try not to screw up. Here, you play with some really good players and they just make you better. If you work hard to get open, they’ll get the puck to you, and vice versa. They’ll work hard to get those openings so you can get the puck to them. It makes it a lot easier to play, and obviously, it’s a lot easier to have success that way.”
And the confidence keeps growing.
“I didn’t really have any expectations,” he said about his arrival in Hershey. “My other experience in the AHL wasn’t a great one, and I didn’t have a lot of confidence coming up here, but coming up here and getting two goals in the first game obviously helps your confidence. It makes you believe you can play in this league, and that’s the first step, believing you can play. That’s what did it for me. It was a good situation. I ended up being pretty lucky, scoring those two goals the first game. I can’t say it was my hard work and all that. It was a little bit of luck, but I’m pretty happy with it.”
And so are the Bears.