April 03, 2012

2012's John Druce?

The playoffs is the time of the year when people start to wonder whether another John Druce will emerge from the shadows to become the talk of the hockey world.

Druce wasn't exactly as household name in NHL circles back in the early 1990s when he played for the Washington Capitals. He was a fourth-line fixture known more for his guts than glory. He was a part time winger with back to back 8 goal campaigns to begin a NHL career that appeared to be going nowhere fast.

But when sharp shooter Dino Ciccarelli became sidelined with a bad knee in the 1990 playoffs, Druce found himself on the Capitals' top line with Dale Hunter and Geoff Courtnall. The line clicked instantly and played like they had been playing together for years.

Druce stunned the hockey world when he netted 14 playoff goals in 15 games as the Capitals advanced to the conference finals. Druce became the unsung hero of the '91 post season. 8 of those goals came on the power play, and another shorthanded. 4 of his goals were game winners.

As an undrafted rookie, Ciccarelli preceded Druce as unexpected scoring hero, while Chris Kontos followed him. Every once in a while someone catches fire. More likely than not the player goes unselected through hockey pool drafts everywhere.

Who could be the John Druce of 2012? Here are a few possibilities.

Alex Steen, St. Louis. Make no mistake: Blues players will be hot at your playoff pool draft, but perhaps Alex Steen will slide to the middle rounds thanks to 39 games missed this season due to a concussion. Steen is just a fantastic player, comfortable in any situation. I keep waiting for him to have a breakout offensive season. Perhaps it will come in the 2012 playoffs? The Blues would be very happy with that.

Travis Zajac, New Jersey. Zajac's story is very similar to that of Steen's, except he missed most of the 2011-12 season with a left Achille's injury. Zajac has yet to find his game since returning, but if he can, New Jersey's playoff chances get a lot better. Especially since the Devils appear destined for 6th place and a showdown with the winner of the weak Southeast division. That means playing either Florida or Washington, which bodes well for the Devils making it out of round one.

Max Lapierre, Vancouver. Lapierre has a history of strong playoff performances. Lapierre has spent much of the season centering the Canucks' 4th line, but with Samuel Pahlsson, Manny Malhotra and soon Steven Reinprecht as pivot options, Lapierre could become something of a swingman in Vancouver, playing on several different lines. In Daniel Sedin's absence, Lapierre has 2 goals and 4 points along side Henrik Sedin.

Carl Hagelin, New York. Carl Hagelin, a rare Swedish hockey graduate of University of Michigan, has shown a very intelligent game in his rookie season with the Rangers. He even has had a stint on the top line here late in the season. If the Rangers are for real, they will need contributions from young players like Hagelin,

Craig Smith, Nashville - Last year's John Druce was Joel Ward, then with Nashville. Could this year's be the  Predators' Craig Smith? Smith is a first year pro who left Wisconsin University early to play in the NHL. He has 13 goals and 33 points so far in 70 games in his rookie season, including 6 goals and 13 points on the power play. If Nashville can get by Detroit and go for a deep run, the unknown Smith may play a nice role, especially if more PP time opens up.

Matt Read, Philadelphia -  The Flyers have a lot of good young forwards, but Read is perhaps the most overlooked. He can change that with a strong playoffs. The Flyers will need big post-seasons from a couple of their youngsters if they hope to get by Pittsburgh and go deep.

Who do you think will be this year's surprise playoff scorer?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As The Buffalo Sabres still stand a chance to go to the playoffs, I'll pick Marcus Foligno as their surprise scorer.