They’re the half-dozen counted on to get it done.
If you play on an NHL team’s top two lines, there’s an expected level of offensive competence. Players on Lines 3 and 4 can carve out an existence based on faceoff wizardry, willingness to fight or intimate defensive zone knowledge.
Top-six forwards are certainly encouraged to do those things, too; it just better come in between the moments where you’re earning your keep by creating goals.
Flames left winger Curtis Glencross is one of those players presently trying to prove he deserves the minutes and responsibility that go with playing on the top two lines. He’s making a strong case for himself based on the four goals and seven points he’s netted through four pre-season games, totals that tie him for the team lead with Olli Jokinen in each category.
Calgary, perhaps more so than any projected playoff team, has top-six spots up for grabs and the 26-year-old Glencross has one in the crosshairs.
“I’m trying to take the next step as a player,” he told The Canadian Press after popping two goals versus the Oilers Wednesday night. “A top-six position is where I want to be. I’ll take it one game at a time. If it is there, it is there. If it is not, it’s not. I just have to go out there and show what I can do.”
Another player who likely relates to that sentiment? How about Chad LaRose of the Carolina Hurricanes. The scrappy right winger has been a useful Cane since the lockout ended, but, at 27, he’s now trying to traverse the path from prickly to productive. LaRose, a tireless worker, banged in a career-high 19 goals last year while averaging just more than 15 minutes of ice per game in a mostly third-line role. It says here he’ll be sniffing around 25 goals this season while fulfilling an expanded role under coach Paul Maurice.
One of the more intriguing candidates for promotion to the front lines is Detroit’s Ville Leino. He’ll turn 26 just after the season starts and many people expect him to also turn into the next Red Wing who causes everybody else in the league to wonder how they missed out on such an obvious talent.
While everybody else was drooling over Fabian Brunnstrom in the summer of 2008, the Wings quietly inked Leino, the 2007-08 Finnish League MVP.
He played just 13 regular season games last season, plus seven more in the playoffs, but his keen two-way game and offensive touch have prompted suggestions he can severely temper the Wings’ sting over losing Marian Hossa, Jiri Hudler and Mikael Samuelsson.
And if he plays on the left side with either Henrik Zetterberg or Pavel Datsyuk in the middle it’ll certainly help make for a graceful entry into a team’s more exclusive forward club.
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear regularly in the off-season and his column, Top Shelf, appears Wednesdays.
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