If the Phoenix Coyotes have a void with captain Shane Doan currently out of the line-up, center Antoine Vermette is ready to pick up the baton.
As the leader in the locker room and on the ice, Doan’s value extends beyond the ice's surface. Yet, Doan’s production in killing penalties, engineering the power play, shadowing the opposition’s big line and playing critical, hard minutes can not be underestimated.
Now, Doan is sidelined with an illness that is still undetermined and Vermette has stepped forward. Already enjoying one of the best seasons in his 10-year NHL career, Vermette’s penchant for doing the things Doan is accustomed to is almost taken for granted.
“(Vermette) touches so many aspects of the game,” said Phoenix coach Dave Tippett. “He's gained the trust and confidence of his teammates and is a positive force. He's is a very valuable part of our team.”
While the Coyotes skate these days without Doan and the “C” on his sweater, Tippett realizes Vermette’s importance. Quickly, the coach gave Vermette an “A” and that means alternative captain. Now, Vermette joins Martin Hanzal and Keith Yandle as Coyotes with that “A” on their sweaters.
Paired with Mikkel Boedker on the right wing and Kyle Chipchura on the left wing, Vermette is tied for the third most goals on the team. That’s coming into Thursday’s game at Toronto and Vermette remains one of the top players in league in winning face-offs.
Based on statistics compiled by the NHL, Vermette is currently sixth in the league (57.2 percent) winning face-offs. His 434 wins on draws is tied for first in the league and he is fifth (57.4 percent) in winning face-offs on the road.
Yet, the 31-year-old native of St. Agapit, Que. has a history of beating opponents to the draw. Since, 2007, he is seventh best in the league at winning face-offs and ranks in the top 10 in securing the draw over the last three years. In his 10-year NHL career, Vermette ranked in the top 10 winning face-offs in five years.
“Winning the face-off is all about what your opponent gives you,” Vermette said. “But, there are many factors. You have to know the linesmen and the speed in which each guy drop the puck. You have to watch the positioning of your opponent in the face-off circle and you also have to how to position your body.”
Yet, Vermette’s value is not limited to the face-off circle.
“(Vermette) is good down low and in his ability to forecheck,” said Boedker. “He thinks the game and leads by example.”
One value Vermette displays is confidence.
While he may be enjoying a productive season, Tippett is perhaps the first to recognize his overall worth. Placing Vermette on the ice in the final minute of a period remains a testament to his versatility and resourcefulness.
“If there’s a big moment in the game, I want to be there,” Vermette said. “Overall, I try and focus on how I can help the team. If that means killing penalties or anything else, I want to make a difference.”
If Vermette continues to be productive while short-handed, he and his teammates will certainly get that opportunity against the Leafs.
Coming into the game with Toronto Thursday night at the Air Canada Centre, the Leafs lead the NHL in power play goals at home.
According to statistics compiled by the NHL, the Leafs scored 18 power play goals on 56 opportunities at Air Canada Centre and that’s a 32.1 percentage. Overall, Toronto is fourth in power play efficiency with a 23.7 percentage.
In killing penalties, the Coyotes are near the bottom. They stand tied for 26th overall and have not scored a short-handed goal this season.
Defenseman Zbynek Michalek left the team for medical reasons.
Earlier this year, Michalek, who was having a strong season at the blue line and blocking shots, missed nine games due to injury. The 30-year-old native of Jindrichuv Hradec in the Czech Republic returned Dec. 10 against Colorado but lasted only four games before being sidelined again.
In his place, the Coyotes recalled Rostislav Klesla from Portland of the American Hockey League. With the Pirates, Klesla appeared in six games with one goal and one assists.
Previously this season with Phoenix, Klesla appeared in 15 games with one goal, two assists and 10 penalty minutes.
Mark Brown is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.