Rick Nash? Nope. Dany Heatley? Nope. Alexander Ovechkin? Nope.
Try Mike Cammalleri. The diminutive Los Angeles Kings forward has 10 goals in 11 games, but you’d be hard-pressed to find too many hockey fans who knew that. Despite leading the Kings in scoring last season with a career-high 80 points (34-46) in 81 games, Cammalleri doesn’t seem to get the notoriety he deserves around the league.
“I’ve got a lot of friends and family who support me back home, my phone’s always blowing up,” Cammalleri, who grew up north of Toronto, told The Canadian Press this week. “For me, it’s just more important that we get going on the right track and become a playoff team.
“If we get can into those playoffs I’ll have my fulfilment of fun come the end of the season. I don’t think my name getting out there more would do that for me.”
That’s precisely the kind of attitude Kings GM Dean Lombardi has been trying to foster as he rebuilds a team that’s missed the playoffs four consecutive seasons.
The lack of recent team success is part of the reason why, in Lombardi’s view, Cammalleri doesn’t get quite the attention other top scorers get. The other part is playing on the “left coast” because most fans in the Eastern time zone are asleep when Cammalleri is doing his thing.
“It’s a factual statement – a 30-goal scorer on a Stanley Cup contender and a 30-goal scorer on a non-playoff team is not the same,” said Lombardi. “That’ll be the next step for him.”
The 5-9, 185-pound Cammalleri also has three assists this season, giving him 13 points in 11 games.
“For me personally, I don’t want to be content with what happened last year, that’s for sure,” said Cammalleri, a member of Canada’s gold medal squad at the IIHF World Hockey Championship in Moscow. “I’m trying to keep getting better. Most of it has to do with your team and your teammates. It was a tough start for us, we lost five in a row and we were kind of searching there. But we started doing some things right and to get some results has been really positive.
“We’ve been playing a lot better as of late and doing a lot of good things. I think my individual success is a direct result of that.”
After a tough start to the season the Kings have won four of their last five games. Leading the way has been Cammalleri’s top line with Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown.
“Kopy and Brownie, two awesome young players who are doing some amazing things out there,” said Cammalleri.
The three players are challenging themselves to be among the top lines in the NHL.
“That’s definitely the intention for us,” said Cammalleri. “We’re probably not going to go around and say it, though. Especially Brownie, he’s a quiet guy. But between the three of us, we’re building chemistry and we have a lot of confidence in one another and there’s no reason we can’t be improving to get to the point where we can be a real positive influence for our team every night.”
Cammalleri won’t say it, but he may also be playing with a bit of a chip on his shoulder. The Kings caught a break last summer when an arbitrator awarded Cammalleri a two-year deal worth US$3.1 million this season and $3.6 million next year.
It’s not chump change, but it’s less than what many other scorers of his age and calibre are making.
“It was what it was, I really don’t have a comment about the arbitration process to be honest,” said Cammalleri. “What I can say is that it won’t change the way I play. I only know how to play this game one way and I can guarantee it won’t change the way that I play.”
Lombardi took Cammalleri out for lunch in Toronto right after the arbitration hearing, wanting to make sure there were no lingering effects.
“A GM is only as good as his players and it’s critical to get back on the same page,” said the GM.
Lombardi believes Cammalleri has been driven for a long, long time, way before the arbitration decision.
“He loves defying the odds,” said Lombardi. “Since he was 10 years old playing in those top leagues in Toronto he was always told he was too small. I think he uses that as extra motivation. He’s a guy who loves to score and also loves the idea of sticking it (to the naysayers) – it’s a powerful combination.”
And the best is yet to come.
“He’s a better player than he was last year and he was a better player last year than he was the year before,” said Lombardi. “And I don’t think he’s peaked yet.”