When big-body players breakout after spending a few years in the development leagues, not only do they surprise commentators and fans, they give an unexpected boost and fortification of depth to the team. It’ll open up options for the coach in how to manage his lines, it’ll create more chances in front of the net because of sheer mass and it’ll prop up secondary scoring that is oh so important to contending teams.
Recently, we’ve seen 6-foot-2, 200-pound Brooks Laich bust out in Washington as a 24-year-old in 2007-08 with 37 points in 82 games. The 2001 sixth-round pick (193rd overall) was an average point-producer in the American League and mediocre in his first two years with Washington.
Since then he’s become a 20-plus goal-scorer, notched 53 points last season, and is currently sitting as a point-per-game player on pace to pass the 30-goal plateau. Give as much credit to Alex Ovechkin as you want – Laich has five points in the five games Ovie has missed – but Laich is his own player now and has followed the familiar power forward path as others, such as…
Ryane Clowe. Another 2001 sixth-rounder (175th overall), no one outside of Santa Clara County paid much attention to Clowe until he became a timely playoff scorer. After missing all but 15 games of the 2007-08 season, the 6-foot-2, 225-pounder put up nine points and 41 shots in 13 playoff games and was one of San Jose’s best players. He built on that with 52 regular season points last year and is now a favorite dark horse pick in the poolie realm.
All of which brings us to another late-rounder from the 2001 draft, 6-foot-3, 200-pound David Moss of the Calgary Flames. A seventh-rounder (220th overall), Moss moved from NCAA Michigan to Calgary’s AHL affiliate in Omaha where he’d spend one full season and part of a second. He then put up 18 and 11 points in consecutive 41-game seasons in the NHL before suddenly posting 20 goals and 39 points in 81 games last season.
“Last year I got a great opportunity playing with good guys and got more time on the power play, which certainly helps,” said Moss. “I think it’s just one of those things where you try and get to the net and score some dirty goals around that area and that’s something I did a lot of last year.”
When the game is on the line, hard-hatters step to the fore, battling in the corners for crucial puck possession and planting themselves in an opportunistic spot in front, where anything can happen. Take a look at Maxime Talbot’s two-goal effort in Game 7 of the Cup final last season and you’ll see how important these fierce, unpredictable competitors are.
They add an element of chance that can turn the tides at any moment in the game. In fact, in the second game of this season, Moss scored his first game-winner of the year (he had four last year) against Edmonton. If you’ll remember, the tally was more of a gift from Nikolai Khabibulin than a medal-winning effort, but that’s the type of play these guys come through with; it’s their role.
Moss recognizes his position and his development has been defined by his ability to improve that specific skill set.
“You work on little plays around the net,” Moss explained. “My coach in the minors who’s here right now, (Flames assistant coach) Ryan McGill, he was great with that stuff. We worked after practice a long time just working on tipping the puck, roofing pucks from in tight, and I think the more you do it the more second nature it comes on the ice. A lot of the goals aren’t pretty, but they count.”
A third-line player with the ability to step onto the second line when a worker bee is needed, Moss’ game is on the trajectory so many late-blooming power forwards have followed before him. His presence will impact Calgary’s aspirations and his improvement will help fill out what some consider a one-line offense.
It’s fair to say the Livonia, Mich., native has come a long way from when he was overlooked through almost the entire entry draft; albeit one he wasn’t paying much attention to, anyway.
“I think my mom woke me up and she told me I got drafted on the second day,” Moss laughed. “That was pretty cool. Then I stopped working at Buddy’s Pizza and started paying more attention to hockey.”
Rory Boylen is TheHockeyNews.com’s web content specialist and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear regularly in the off-season.
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