Chris Clark remembers the first time he saw Trey Fix-Wolansky hit the ice as a professional hockey player.
Fix-Wolansky made his debut in the playoffs in May with Cleveland of the AHL, and Clark – then the Blue Jackets’ head honcho of prospect development – watched the confident, passionate offensive dynamo’s first few shifts feeling the hockey version of having his heart in his throat.
“His first three passes were little touch saucer passes,” Clark recalls. “They worked, but they were an inch away from a breakaway the other way. It’s the confidence and the skill that he has, (but he has to) learn to do it in the right times and right places.”
Of course, Fix-Wolansky remembers things a little differently.
“What happened was I was throwing backhand saucers right onto my teammates’ sticks,” Fix-Wolansky says now with a laugh. “(Clark) didn’t like them, but they got on the tape for scoring opportunities, so I don’t think he can be too mad about that. They didn’t go back the other way … but if they did go back the other way, yeah, it would have been bad.”
The exchange is Fix-Wolansky in a nutshell. The 5-foot-7 Edmonton native, whom the Blue Jackets took in the seventh round of the 2018 NHL draft, isn’t lacking for self-belief in his game.
And considering Fix-Wolansky totaled 69 goals and 191 points the past two seasons with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL — including a 37-goal, 102-point performance this past year that made him the league’s Eastern Conference MVP — he has plenty of reason to feel his skill stands out on a hockey rink.
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The confidence to throw a backhand saucer pass or three in his pro debut, in fact, is a positive to the Blue Jackets, who think Fix-Wolansky can be the latest late-round steal for an organization that has found such players as Cam Atkinson, Matt Calvert, Markus Nutivaara and Vladislav Gavrikov in the later rounds of the draft.
“He’s a great kid,” Clark said. “He’s fun to work with. He’s responsive to good coaching and the things we talk about, so eventually he’ll make this team.”
Not only did Fix-Wolansky dominate at the junior level a season ago, he was pretty impressive upon his debut with Cleveland. He played in the team’s final three postseason games against Toronto, posting a goal and an assist in that time and moving his way up in the lineup as the games went by.
Fix-Wolansky said he wasn’t sure how things would go when he got to the Monsters after his Oil Kings were eliminated from postseason play — he was on a flight to Cleveland the next day after Edmonton’s conference final loss — but his dad reassured the small but physical winger he had what it would take to step in and play right away.
Of course, the elder Fix-Wolansky was proved correct, even if Trey described his arrival with the Monsters as nerve-wracking.
“The first couple of games, you’re playing against new players and you’re meeting new people on the team so you’re not very familiar with them, and it’s the playoffs as well,” Fix-Wolansky said. “But I felt coming out of the playoffs in the WHL and going into a playoff atmosphere there, that helped a lot. The guys in the room helped me a long. It was a smooth transition.
“(The biggest difference) I think is just you’re not getting out there against a 16-year-old or a 17-year-old kid, licking your chops, thinking, ‘This is going to be an easy shift.’ Everybody in (the AHL) has been there, they know they can play, so you have to match up against them. You can’t take any shifts off.”
There will be an adjustment as the 20-year-old gets used to the pro level — and Clark did say the plan is for Fix-Wolansky to play pro hockey this year — one that started last year when Oil Kings head coach Brad Lauer tried to transition his game a little bit.
The goal isn’t to get rid of the highlight-reel plays, it’s to make sure Fix-Wolansky makes the bold, daring plays at the right time without worry of the puck going back the other direction.
“He rounded out his game a little bit more toward the second half of the season,” Clark said. “I was talking to him, his coach was talking to him. His coach talked to him about playing not only as a junior, but how you are going to be a pro.
“They don’t have to be 100 percent doing the pro game in junior because they can get away with certain things, and you want them to make mistakes and you want them to try different things and round out their game. But in the back of their head, they’re going to know, ‘If I want to be a professional, if I want to play in Columbus, I have to do things a certain way.'”
With his first taste of pro hockey under his belt, Fix-Wolansky will likely begin the season with the Monsters. When it comes to how he’ll approach bringing his game to that level on a full-time basis, he won’t expect to change much.
Just maybe one less backhand saucer pass or two.
“I think I’ll be the same player I am now — not shying away in the corners, skilled,” he said. “They told me they don’t want me to shy away from the corners or the physical stuff. I’ve definitely never had a problem with that my whole life, and I don’t think I’ll have a problem with it now.”