Mikael Samuelsson was disgusted with himself, felt he played a terrible game, and said he would prefer to talk about anything but the Vancouver Canucks' victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday.
Nearby, Canucks enforcer Darcy Hordichuk listened in, amused by his teammate's harsh self assessment and with how far the needle has shifted in Samuelsson's first 10 games with his new NHL team. Rather than fixate on Samuelsson's low point, Hordichuk took it to the other extreme.
"He's the best player on the Canucks," Hordichuk quipped as both men went through a series of postgame stretching exercises in the GM Place gymnasium. "Are you kidding me? He's unbelievable. He deserves a raise."
Hordichuk may have been embellishing, but not by much. Samuelsson entered a game against the Edmonton Oilers last night with a team-leading five goals and ranked fifth in the league with 41 shots on net.
Besides defenceman Mathieu Schneider, the Swedish winger is the only Stanley Cup winner in Vancouver's dressing room, and he has been invaluable in the early going - terrible game against the Leafs notwithstanding - with countryman Daniel Sedin lost to a broken foot. Tomorrow comes another test of Samuelsson's value as the Detroit Red Wings come to Vancouver for a game he admits is more meaningful than most.
He credits the opponent, his former team, with nurturing his NHL career.
"I learned a ton of things in Detroit from the coach but from the other players as well," he said. "I don't know where to start, but it's the environment they bring you into and the small things they do."
The Wings, no longer the reigning Cup champions, are in a transition period after losing four forwards in free agency - including Samuelsson - and winger Johan Franzen to knee surgery. Younger players such as Ville Leino and Darren Helm are receiving more ice time, and the organization is hoping to jump start the careers of Jason Williams and Patrick Eaves.
Samuelsson was once a Red Wing reclamation project, a player who went to Hockeytown in midcareer after playing for four NHL organizations. He spent four seasons there and said he wouldn't be the established professional he is today if not for the Motown experience.
He adopted the Red Wings way - bide your time, accept a lesser role because of the depth, take less money to stay, and groom your replacement - before signing a three-year deal, $7.5-million (all currency U.S.) contract with the Canucks this summer. Vancouver general manager Mike Gillis frequently mentions Detroit when talking about his blueprint, and he was willing to pay Samuelsson more than $1-million more per season to leave Michigan and import some of that selflessness.
"It's pretty impressive," Samuelsson said. "The organization takes its time developing young players down on the farm. They don't have to rush players because they've got a great team.
"When you get that wheel spinning, it's easier for young players when they come up because for one thing, they're ready to come up and because they're playing with good players."
When Gillis arrived in Vancouver last year, there was but two prospects to speak of after a cycle of trading draft picks for playoff help in the West Coast Express years earlier this decade. Today, the team has about six or seven bona fide prospects, and the GM is trying to supplement them with late bloomers from the professional and collegiate ranks.
A couple of years from now, Samuelsson could find himself in a time warp, serving as a bridge to Vancouver's next generation much like he did in Detroit. The 32-year-old may be asked to play a supporting role, especially if young players such as Michael Grabner, Sergei Shirokov and Cody Hodgson earn jobs among the top six forwards.
For the moment, with Sedin and four other forwards out with injuries, Samuelsson is skating on the first line and is being asked to help integrate the Grabners and Shirokovs, who have been forced into the lineup.Report Typo/Error