I thought Matt Stajan could fill a beneficial role on an NHL team, but I never guessed it would be the one he’s currently performing.
After years of producing fewer points than fans and management of the Toronto Maple Leafs expected him to, I figured Stajan was about to settle into a nice niche as a quality third-liner. Dependable, steady, hard-working – all those adjectives never used to describe the star players teams really, really value.
Early on this year, things didn’t look like they’d unfold that well for the former Belleville Bulls star. New Leafs coach Ron Wilson landed in town and promptly shooed Stajan to the doghouse. The 24-year-old was actually a healthy scratch for the Leafs’ third game of the year and had exactly zero points through his first five contests.
Then everything changed.
Stajan blew right past his old role as a dependable checker and set up shop as a point-producing center on one of Toronto’s top two lines. Since recording his first point on Oct. 23, Stajan has at least a point in all but two of Toronto’s 15 games, racking up six goals and 20 points in that span. Yes, it took him a while to get on the scoresheet, but he has done a great job of staying there.
Still, there’s absolutely nothing that wows you about Stajan. No all-world shot or X-ray vision that pops as his definitive trait. But he sure busts his butt every shift and he’s proving adept at contributing to and converting greasy goals.
It’s ironic to see Stajan playing between Nik Antropov and Alexei Ponikarovsky – the slot Mats Sundin used to fill. Stajan and Sundin come from opposite ends of the hockey player mold.
Sundin was the definition of a genetically blessed athlete who used his big frame, soft hands and obvious skill to become an elite player. Stajan is a guy who, when you stand next to him in a post-game scrum, makes you think if you worked out really hard for six months, you too could be an NHLer.
And that everyman disposition makes it that much harder not to pull for the guy a little bit.
Both Stajan and Mikhail Grabovski have been pleasant surprises in their roles as the Leafs’ top two pivots. The biggest reason Toronto should not sign Sundin is because his presence would infringe on the ice time those two players are using to thrive.
And the winner is…
In his rookie season, people joked Jordan Staal was gunning for the Cy Young Trophy because he posted 29-13 (G-A) totals.
A few snipers are following his lead this year thanks to goal-heavy point totals. The league’s top two goal-scorers, Jeff Carter and Thomas Vanek, are both sitting at 15-5.
But the most unlikely Cy Young candidate is new Canuck Kyle Wellwood. Always viewed as more of a playmaker throughout his career, Wellwood has found the net eight times this season, while posting just two assists. That projects to a 36-9 season and, with a creative agent, maybe even a tryout with the Yankees.