“The next guy they have there who’s going to be like that is (Valtteri) Filppula. He’s getting there; he’s like a young Pav. I don’t think he has the same offensive flair, but he’s young and he’s learning from the right guy.” – NHL scout, 2009.
Valtteri Filppula, now in his sixth full NHL season, has long been regarded as a mini Pavel Datsyuk in the making. Though the young Finn didn’t have the high-end offensive chops possessed by his Russian teammate in the past, the comparison held due to his responsible two-way play.
But something has changed.
Filppula, 27, is suddenly scoring and already only five points off his career-high mark of 40, set in 2008-09. So what does Datsyuk, always the joker, think about his young comrade finally excelling in the scoring department?
“I tell him be quiet, I need the glory. Be quiet.”
Filppula’s ascension as a scorer is the best development the aging Wings could have hoped for this season. For years Detroit has been able to remain a consistent powerhouse because of its ability to regenerate with its young players and to have new stars rise to the fore as the older ones are phased out. The Wings are once again close to a point where rejuvenation is needed and the question has been asked multiple times: Who is capable of stepping into the shoes of Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg?
To be sure, the Wings have a collection of intriguing talents. Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader have been depth-line staples for a couple of seasons now, while 23-year-old Cory Emmerton is off to a good start.
But while those players have clearly been brought up in a Red Wings system that is all about two-way, responsible team play, they are lacking in the scoring department. The offense has to come from somewhere and Filppula is looking like a good bet.
“He has more confidence and he plays well,” Datsyuk said. “Every season he plays well, but sometimes he doesn’t score and without points people don’t realize how good he is. Now he has goals, points, more confidence and everybody can see him.”
Of course, as always, Detroit has more talent waiting in the wings. Gustav Nyquist (drafted 121st overall in ’08) and Tomas Tatar (60th in ’09) are 1-2 in scoring for the American League’s Grand Rapids Griffins, while Riley Sheahan (21st in ’10) is still with Notre Dame and Calle Jarnkrok (51st in ’10) is taking a familiar route developing in Sweden. But with the organization still loaded on the pro roster, and its past penchant to bring along players gradually, who knows when these players will be “Wings-ready” and put in a position to be major contributors on the club.
Playing on a line with Zetterberg and Jiri Hudler, Filppula has been the leading point-getter among the trio (14 goals, 35 points) – and with 14 points in his past 15 games, he’s still trending up.
Whether or not he turns into the second coming of Datsyuk is another story. Surely it’s not fair to hold a player up against a generational talent, but Filppula’s potential to be a leader is there. For a Red Wings team that’s getting closer and closer to needing a new face to step up, Filppula’s season so far is everything they could have hoped for.
In the meantime, Datsyuk’s influence on Filppula can only be a good thing for the Wings. The two are friends off the ice and Filppula helped out at Datsyuk’s kids camp in Russia in the summer of 2010. Even though Filppula didn’t make it out to the camp last summer, No. 13 says the invitation is still open. Though he gives him a hard time about being absent from the last one.
“I still give it to him every day,” Datsyuk said. “I say, ‘Tickets and room I already pay for this. Give me back.’ ”
His newfound production is surely payback enough.
Rory Boylen is TheHockeyNews.com’s web editor. His column appears regularly only on THN.com.
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