Wojtek Wolski is about to prove to the Capitals one of two things: they either hit the lottery or they got what they paid for.
When they signed him to a one-year, $600,000 contract last summer, the Caps became Wolski’s fifth NHL team in just over two seasons.
At worst, Wolski, 26, will turn out to be a low-risk, low-reward player. At best he will fill the offensive void left by Alexander Semin.
“I want to make a home here,” Wolksi said after a workout at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, where Adam Oates has him playing left wing on a line with Mike Ribeiro and Troy Brouwer, “and that starts with playing hard the first game.”
Wolksi – his name is pronounced VOY-teck VOL-skee – has forged a reputation as a player whose promise does not match his production.
Taken with the 21st pick overall in the 2004 NHL draft, Wolski appeared to be well on his way to a productive NHL career during the 2009-10 season when he recorded a career-high 23 goals and 42 assists for the Colorado Avalanche and Phoenix Coyotes. That was enough to land him a two-year, $7.6 million contract with the Coyotes.
Two years and three teams later, Wolski is trying to resurrect a career that hit the skids in abbreviated seasons with the Rangers and Panthers that saw him score just 16 goals in 104 games.
Wolski’s journey back begins with a coach willing to give him ample opportunity to showcase his offensive skills.
“I don’t know Wojo that well,” Adam Oates said of the 6-foot-3, 210-pounder, who was born in Zabrze, Poland and raised in Toronto. “He’s obviously a big kid. We talked about how other coaches used him versus what I want. He’s obviously a very talented guy and we’re looking at him to add something to the top six forwards.”
In an 82-game season Wolski would be looking to re-establish himself with a 25-goal season. This year that could come in the form of between 15 and 20 goals. Either way, he’ll get the chance as a top-six forward.
“It’s great, he said. “It’s nice to see the confidence from the coaching staff. That’s where I’m used to playing. It’s a lot more fun playing in the top six.”
Ribeiro, who fed Wolski for a goal on Tuesday, said it’s easy to see Wolski’s potential.
“The guy has always had skill,” Ribeiro said. “He got injured one year and a lot of times a coaching staff doesn’t use a guy on the power play and his confidence goes down a bit and it’s hard to re-grab that again.
“I think he’ll have a chance to do that here. You can see what he’s got: a big body, a good skater, good hands. It’s just a matter of playing together more.”
Wolski spent much of last season sidelined by groin troubles and spent about one month of the lockout playing for KH Sanok in Poland, where he recorded six goals and seven assists in 12 games.
“It was an experience I’ll have for the rest of my life,” Wolski said with a uncomfortable smile. “It was definitely humbling and it really changes your perspective on things and makes you appreciate how we’re treated in the NHL.
“It’s not like that everywhere in the world. I always knew we have it great and we get treated well in the NHL but to see what other guys have to go through makes you appreciate it more.”
In Wolski, the Capitals have one of the NHL’s most accurate shootout specialists. In 58 career attempts he has 25 goals, placing him ninth on the NHL’s all-time list and first among current Capitals, followed by Ribeiro  and Alex Ovechkin .
Wolski said he’s anxious to start playing games alongside Ribeiro, who can be a magician with the puck.
“He’s so smooth out there,” Wolski said. “He’s got so much poise with the puck. He’s fun to play with. You just have to go hard to the net and be ready.”