The Boston Bruins centre has been among the NHL’s top performers the past few years, yet even hardcore hockey fans would have a tough time picking him out of a police lineup. That’s a crime in itself. Only five players entered play Wednesday with more points since the NHL lockout. And they’re all recognizable by only one name: Thornton, Crosby, Jagr, Heatley and Ovechkin.
As the odd man out in that group, Savard just continues to hang around the top of the NHL scoring list and fly below the radar.
“For a couple years now things have gone pretty good,” he said Wednesday from Boston. “I think I’m trying and hopefully maybe after this year I’ll start getting more recognition.
“Right now I’m just trying to keep working every day, staying positive and building off each year.”
It took the former junior scoring star a few years to adjust to the NHL game. He was drafted by the New York Rangers in 1995 and played three-plus seasons in Calgary before developing into one of the league’s top playmakers.
The turning point might have been the November 2002 trade that sent him from the Flames to Atlanta Thrashers for prospect Ruslan Zainullin.
Savard immediately went from playing 12 or 15 minutes a game to more than 20. He also saw plenty of time with Ilya Kovalchuk on his wing.
“I knew I could play on a higher level and I just wasn’t getting the opportunity (in Calgary),” he said. “I got that chance in Atlanta thanks to coach (Bob) Hartley. He gave me a chance to play a lot of minutes.”
Since that trade from the Flames, Savard has registered 280 points in 250 games. Zainullin is still in the Russian Elite League and hasn’t appeared in an NHL game.
You can excuse the Flames, though. Calgary was far from the only team that didn’t see Savard’s potential. After all, he wasn’t even selected until the fourth round of that draft in 1995.
It took the move to a young and talented Thrashers team for him to blossom. The small centre benefited from getting plenty of opportunity to grow in that system.
“A lot of it comes to ice time,” said Savard, who is generously listed at five-foot-10. “When you’re getting ice time you’re going to get more chances and things are going to come (along) a little more.
“I think that’s been a big thing is just getting the chance to play a lot more on an everyday basis.”
After registering a career-high 97 points last year with Atlanta, many thought the Bruins might have overpaid when they signed the free-agent Savard to a US$20-million, four-year deal last summer.
The conventional thinking at the time is that he would struggle without Kovalchuk on his wing.
Think again. The 29-year-old from Ottawa has 84 points in 66 games with Boston so far while playing mostly with Glen Murray. Savard’s on pace to break the 100-point barrier for the first time in his career.
“It would be nice,” he said.
Savard credits Murray and other linemate P.J. Axelsson for his continued success with the Bruins.
Perhaps it’s that generous nature that has largely kept Savard out of the limelight. With Jarome Iginla in Calgary, Kovalchuk in Atlanta and Murray in Boston, there has always been someone else to focus on.
“I’ve been lucky to have good scorers on the wing everywhere I’ve gone,” Savard says modestly.