Jeff Woywitka has had a career of missed opportunities.
Drafted 27th overall in 2001, he was heralded as just what the Philadelphia Flyers needed. A smooth skating, skilled defenseman, he was supposed to help tie down the Flyers' blueline for years.
But two years later, with Woywitka not even having played a game for the Flyers, he was moved to Edmonton in the deal for Mike Comrie.
Two years later, after some time in the minors with the Oilers (but no NHL games), he was moved to St. Louis in the trade for Chris Pronger.
Well, at least you have to say he has a certain pedigree for trades.
Woywitka was hoping to have found a home with the Blues _ and, to be honest, he got some chances there. On a team where Erik Johnson and Jay McKee battled injuries, Woywitka became a player who had to be relied upon. He did a nice job at times, with three goals and 15 assists in 65 games last season, but he just didn't knock their socks off.
Two seasons ago, when Woywitka was called up from the minors, coach Andy Murray issued this challenge.
"Jeff Woywitka has been a solid offensive performer in the American Hockey League," coach Andy Murray said. "He's yet to do it consistently at the NHL level. I think part of that is feeling comfortable in your environment. He does have that potential. But first of all, he's got to make sure he establishes himself as a guy that's got credibility defensively."
Murray criticized Woywitka at times last season, and the Blues decided not to offer him a qualifying offer as a restricted free agent in the summer.
The Stars signed Woywitka as an unrestricted free agent to a two-year, one-way contract for $600,000 this season and $700,000 next season, so he is definitely expected to be on the NHL roster and likely won't be going back to the minors.
But what are they getting?
Well, he is talented. He's 6-3, 215 and can really skate. He was drafted out of Red Deer as a top-level skilled defenseman who can run a power play. He also will turn 26 on Sept. 1, so it's not like he's past his prime or anything.
But, once again, he will have to prove himself to earn minutes. Currently, the team has a pretty solid group in Stephane Robidas, Trevor Daley, Karlis Skrastins, Matt Niskanen and Nicklas Grossman. That means Woywitka probably falls into a group with Mark Fistric and Andrew Hutchinson, who also have one-way contracts.
The Stars are already paying Garrett Stafford and Dan Jancevski $225,000 each to play at the minor league level, so I guess paying Woywitka or Hutchinson ($600,000) full salary to play in the minors isn't that big of a stretch, but my guess is there will be some talk about trading one of the defensemen rather than trying to carry eight with one-way contracts. That said, the Stars could carry eight defensemen and only 13 forwards, knowing full well that they have a bevy of players who can be recalled and won't have to pass through waivers (or could possibly use one of the defensemen as a forward in a pinch).
The only other problem with carrying eight defensemen is that it pretty much means Ivan Vishnevskiy won't be getting any NHL time even if injuries occur.
Which brings us back to Woywitka.
Bottom line, he is walking into a wide open situation in which he's with a group of defensemen who have similar skills and are a similar age. While players like Fistric, Grossman, Niskanen and Daley all have the edge on him because they were drafted by the Stars, Woywitka still has a chance to jump ahead of them if he knocks the coaches over in training camp.
Will he get that opportunity in a fair competition? That's a good question. It might be to the point in Woywitka's career where he has to force the opportunity.