Ville Leino's Success Evidence of Great Scouting, Not Bad Trade by Red Wings
"Who the hell is this guy?"
"Where was this guy in November?"
"Why couldn't this guy do that for us?"
The "guy," of course, is Ville Leino.
And the reason he's been at the center of so many questions is the fact that his performance throughout the playoffs is now causing some to mention his name and "Conn Smythe" in the same sentence.
Now, that may still be a bit of stretch, but there's no denying that Leino has emerged as one of Philadelphia's best players in these playoffs and certainly their best offensive contributor in the Stanley Cup Finals.
In 17 playoffs games this season, Leino has posted seven goals (two of them game-winners), nine assists, and a plus-six rating.
His patience and control with the puck are now giving the Blackhawks defenders serious fits, and he's become so reliable that Philadelphia head coach Peter Laviolette thinks nothing of double-shifting him at the end of a close game.
All of this bodes well for Philly, and even better for Leino.
However, considering that this guy started the season as a Red Wing and performed so poorly despite being given ample opportunity to do otherwise, he was traded for the human equivalent of a bag of pucks (OK, it was Ole-Kristian Tollefson) may sting just a bit if you're a Detroit fan.
After all, Leino was supposed to be another one of Detroit's "diamond in the rough" finds, a la Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, or Johan Franzen.
The MVP of the Finnish Elite League in 2008, Leino came to Detroit as an undrafted free agent the following season and showed great promise early on, posting nine points in 13 games.
Looking at what seemed to be a sure thing, Red Wings GM Ken Holland signed Leino to a two-year contract last summer and, at $1.6 million total, he figured to be a steal.
Well, like many things about the 2009-10 Detroit Red Wings season, Leino was nothing short of a huge disappointment.
Leino appeared to struggle mightily with life as a regular NHL player.
He was timid and unsure with the puck, utterly useless without it, easily dominated physically, and he never seemed to understand that, at least in the NHL, hard work beats out pure talent about 99 percent of the time.
Originally thrilled with Leino, Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock slowly but surely lost confidence in the Finnish winger as he moved from line to line without ever showing any improvement.
In 42 games with the Red Wings, Leino posted only seven points (4 G, 3 A) and minus-10 rating.
I for one had had enough of Leino back in December and suggested that it was time for the Red Wings to do whatever they could to cut the guy loose .
By February, the Wings seemed to agree with this sentiment and sent Leino off to Philadelphia to clear cap space to accommodate the return of power-forward Johan Franzen.
While it is certainly true that, had Detroit not been facing cap issues, they likely would have held on to Leino a bit longer, the fact that he performed so poorly made the decision to ship him out of Motown all the easier.
Things didn't immediately come up roses for Leino in Philly, either.
In and out of the line-up the rest of the regular season, Leino wasn't even on the bench by the time the playoffs started.
However, injuries to forwards Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne provided an opportunity for Leino to jump into the fire that is the NHL playoffs and he's since taught fire the meaning of heat with his play ever since.
This, of course, has led to head-slapping and the aforementioned questions as well as some commentators considering the trade that sent Leino to the Flyers a rare blunder by Ken Holland.
Given the cap situation, the Wings' desperate need for Johan Franzen, and Leino's complete lack of effectiveness throughout the season, Ken Holland, and any GM worth his salt, would have made the exact same trade every day of the week and twice on Sunday.
No one, and certainly not Flyers GM Paul Holmgren, figured Leino would be the game-breaker he's become over the past few weeks.
If Leino's performance as a Philadelphia Flyer has any bearing on his former team, it reveals only that the Detroit Red Wings remain one of the best scouting organizations in hockey.
After all, the other 29 NHL teams weren't exactly banging down Leino's door in 2008.
The Red Wings saw in Leino the raw talent and puck-possession skills that have come to define Detroit Red Wings forwards and thought he'd find quick comfort and success in a red and white uniform.
Unfortunately, he didn't.
Fortunately for the Flyers, they're reaping the rewards of Detroit Red Wings scouting, as Leino is finally living up to the potential the Wings new he had when they signed him in the first place.
Leino's performance isn't a knock against the Red Wings' management, but a tribute to their scouting.
And, considering he's a big reason the Flyers have evened their series and have proven themselves a legitimate threat against the Detroit-nemesis Chicago Blackhawks, Red Wings fans should still be rooting for him.
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