By the time an NHL player turns 34, they’re usually on the back-nine of their career. But Valtteri Filppula is no ordinary 34-year-old.
When the new Isles regime took over during the off-season, many wondered what direction they would take the team in. And even more questions arose when management decided to hand an aging Filppula a contract in free agency.
Granted, the contract was only for one-year at a cap hit of $2.75 million, but still, many felt those funds could be better allocated.
It just goes to show you, the majority opinion isn’t always right.
Roughly a quarter way through the season, Filppula is tied for third on the team in goals (6) and fourth in points (15). (All stats updated through the conclusion of the Islanders 4-1 win over Carolina on Saturday November 24th). Not bad for a 34-year-old center in an increasingly younger NHL.
In fact, Filppula’s sixth goal of the season opened the scoring Saturday night in Brooklyn. And what a beauty it was as he weaved his way through Carolina’s defense and opened up goalie Scott Darling like a can opener.
“I was just trying to find some space,” explained Filppula. “As I passed the blue line and continued to find more space I eventually ended up one-on-one with their goalie.”
If the Vantaa, Finland native keeps up his current pace, he will register his best season since his 2013-14 campaign in Tampa Bay; during which, he recorded a career-high 25-goals to go along with 58-points.
Has the Finnish Wonder found Ponce de León’s fabled Fountain of Youth? Or is there a more practical reason for his resurgence?
“I’m just trying to play well at both ends of the ice,” said Filppula. “As the season goes on you want to improve your game and that’s what I’m going to do. But I’m not doing anything different per se, compared to years past. We’ve just got to try to play within our structure every game.”
Well, since he’s “not doing anything different,” maybe one of his teammates picked up on something. After all, sometimes you just need a fresh set of eyes to pick up on something you might have missed; especially in regards to yourself.
“He’s been a guy I’ve always admired,” said Josh Bailey. “He sees the ice so well and reads the play so well. He’s just a real veteran presence out there on the ice.”
Or, as head coach Barry Trotz said, “Val’s deceptive. You talk about hockey IQ and what he brings to the room. He’s come in and done exactly what Lou (Lamoriello) wanted and he’s going to be a big part of the success we have as a team.”
And no play further exemplified those words than Filppula’s “almost goal” late in the third period. Realizing he was in tight on Carolina netminder, Scott Darling, Filppula went one-handed in his attempt to push the puck through for his second goal of the night. Alas, Darling made the save at the last second, but kudos to Valtteri for adjusting and adapting on the fly to create another scoring opportunity.
In a season when the Islanders are thus far exceeding expectations, Filppula’s contributions have not gone unnoticed. And as Trotz said, “he’s going to be a big part of the success we have as a team.”