Usually, when Maxim Lapierre does something on the ice that leaves his head coach’s mouth agape, it is not a good thing.
Known for his antics and antagonism, Lapierre played for three NHL franchises last season before finding a home with the Vancouver Canucks and Alain Vigneault, his former junior coach. He was told to cool his act, and for the most part, he towed the line and became a valuable contributor as a penalty-killer, and as a stabilizing force in the middle of the ever-changing fourth line.
He has played five NHL seasons, is 26 years old, and the book on Lapierre’s offence is that there is not much there. He may occasionally chip in, but with 84 points in 33 NHL games, he is known for his shtick, not his stick.
Except for Thursday.
The Canucks sent a roster loaded with prospects and fourth-line types to Edmonton for a preseason game against the Oilers, meaning most of their NHL players stayed behind in Vancouver. They scrimmaged in the morning, and the best player on the ice was Lapierre. In fact, on two occasions, he had Vigneault’s jaw on the ground, and several members of the team’s front office had their eyes bugging out.
Lapierre’s first impression was a goal from the top of the faceoff circle. From long range, he picked the corner above Roberto Luongo’s left shoulder, fitting a puck in a tiny opening.
It was a goal-scorer’s goal, but Lapierre was not done.
A few minutes later, on a two-on-one, Lapierre wisely read the defencemen and fired a laser beam to the far post. It rang off the inside of the bar and found the net.
Another goal-scorer’s goal.
“It was just a scrimmage,” Lapierre said. “I’m not going to make a big deal out of it.”
Fair enough, but Lapierre said he was planning on carrying and shooting the puck more this season, which doesn’t sound like the worst idea given that he will probably have more skill than anyone who lines up for Vancouver as a fourth-line winger. There is still a chance that Lapierre could centre the third line based on the health of Manny Malhotra (eye), and he will most certainly kill penalties.
“We were telling him that when he plays with confidence and he uses his speed, he’s a good player,” teammate Alex Burrows said. “He’s got a lot of assets. He’s really strong physically, he’s able to skate like the wind, and he’s got a pretty good shot. He’s got decent mitts, too, [even though]people call him a grinder.”
For Canucks fans, Lapierre’s lasting image from last season was scoring the game-winning goal in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup final, a tally that put Vancouver on the brink of its first championship. For non-Canuck fans, the lingering memory of Lapierre was his taunting of Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron with an outstretched finger, a reference to Burrows biting Bergeron in Game 1.
The Canucks did their utmost to tone down the acts of Burrows, Ryan Kesler and Lapierre last season, and that message carries forward this year. The difference with Lapierre is that he is not a top-six forward as are Kesler and Burrows, and that he believes he is at his best when getting under opponents’ skin. For their part, the Canucks believe he struck the proper balance after being acquired from the Anaheim Ducks at the deadline last year.
“We want everyone playing hard, but we want to get rid of the extra-curricular stuff,” general manager Mike Gillis said. “We told Max just how happy we were with him. We told him he came and fit right in. We feel like we have an environment that he can thrive in.”