Valtteri Filppula, Detroit Red Wings: 5 Reasons He Is Finally Becoming a Star
So, when is it exactly that a player,"arrives."
Clearly, when people talk about an athlete arriving, they're not referencing his appearance at a particular spatial and temporal location.
Sure, new players show up on teams every season, but this seems not to be the same thing as arriving on the team.
Six seasons ago, Valtteri Filppula showed up on the Red Wings and the team has been waiting for him to arrive ever since.
Filppula came to the team full-time in the 2006-07 season and was touted as perhaps the next best thing to Henrik Zetterberg by coach Mike Babcock.
While the expectations for Filppula were high, however, the actual product never quite came close enough to what was promised.
Sure, Filppula has been one of Detroit's most defensively sound forwards since his rookie season and has been able to contribute offensively in some big ways.
But he never seemed completely comfortable on the offensive side of the puck, which is odd considering his demonstrable offensive instincts and talent.
Needing to shoot more has been the constant, if lone, criticism of his coach and his teammates and they thought that if he simply shot as much as he passed, he just might become the player they knew he could be.
Season after season, this never came to pass.
While still a valuable forward as recently as last summer, Filppula's name started being lumped into the trade rumor mill as some thought that he might be the first piece GM Ken Holland would try to move to acquire another forward or defenseman.
Rumors are rumors of course, but given Filppula's stalling in reaching his potential, they didn't seem too far off considering the fact his arrival was now long overdue.
Good things come to those who wait, I guess.
It may be late in coming, but so far this season, we've seen Filppula emerge into the dangerous offensive threat he always seemed capable of being.
Currently on pace for 75 points, he's the highest scoring Red Wing not named "Datsyuk" or "Franzen," and what's more, he's still exhibiting the same defensive prowess he's heretofore been defined by.
Six seasons into his NHL career, Valtteri Filppula seems to have finally been cleared for arrival.
Here are five reasons why.
Speed Through the Middle
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images
Filppula's always been a speedy player, but too often in his career he's chosen to use that speed on the perimeter rather than down the middle of the ice.
It almost became expected to see No. 51 gather up a head of steam through the neutral zone, break over the blueline and then head straight down the boards waiting for an opportunity to distribute the puck.
This worked sometimes, but certainly not often enough.
This season, we're seeing Filppula use that same speed, but more often down the middle, and rather than waiting (often too long) for an open teammate, he's taking the shot himself and making them count with regularity.
What's the Finnish Word for "Shoot"
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He heard it his first year in the league, and he heard it all through last season—you need to shoot more, Val.
Being a pass-first player is fine, especially when you're as good a distributor as Filppula is.
However, being a pass-first, last and always player isn't a great way to become all you can be to your team.
Until this season, that was the kind of player Filppula was for the most part.
As a result, his team has been patiently waiting for him to emerge as the 20-plus goal-scorer he seems so capable of being.
This season, the wait just may be over.
Filppula is on pace to obliterate his shot totals of previous years and with that, should pot 25-plus goals.
There's Nothing Wrong with the Rough Stuff
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In addition to shooting more, Filppula looks to have a tad more snarl to his game than in previous years.
This is not just helping his team in the defensive zone, but in the other team's end as well.
By physically separating opponents from the puck, he can create a bit more space for him and his teammates and this is just enough to make a difference.
Filppula has picked up his hitting in a big way, almost doubling his pace of the last two seasons.
Though not a big guy, Filppula is a sturdy 6' and 195 pounds and he's throwing that weight around more often than he has at any other time in his NHL career.
A Matter of Time
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images
Though Filppula's emergence as a top-flight two-way player this season seems a bit delayed, it might be arriving in just the right time.
At 27 years old, Filppula is squarely within his prime for an NHL forward and, as he's seeing current stars Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg cresting to their potential, it is a perfect time for him to step his game up a notch or two closer to their level.
Additionally, though others, including his aforementioned teammates, seem to excel quickly in the North American game, some European players simply take a long time to fully adapt their skills to the NHL.
In Filppula's case, he's had enough time to mature as an NHL player such that he's now able to open up his game effectively at both ends of the rink.
Even the best wines can take longer than expected to mature, but once they do, they're a thing of beauty—the same goes for hockey players.
He's No Longer the Center of Attention
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For most of his time in Detroit, Filppula played the position for which he was drafted—center.
As a center, one's defensive responsibilities are greater than one's linemates.
Should the faceoff not go your way, you're the first guy that needs to make a strong defensive play to mitigate the opposition's advantage.
If you do win the draw, you still need to make sure the opposing center doesn't do the same against your team.
This kind of duty seemed to have fit well with Filppula's approach to the game.
However, coach Babcock thought it just might be taking too big a bite out of his offensive potential.
The solution was simple, at least in theory—move him to the wing.
Last year, we saw Filppula play the wing often, but eventually move back to center for a time.
This season, he's played more wing than center and now seems more comfortable in playing the former.
He's made the most of having Henrik Zetteberg as a centerman and because Zetterberg is as shot-happy as they come, Filppula always has a reliable, if not dangerous, linemate to pass to should he find that the better option.
As the points keep piling up, it stands to reason that a player who seemed most comfortable playing pivot on his line will now see the benefit of lining up alongside someone else for a change.
Like Zetterberg, Franzen and Datsyuk before him, Filppula appears ready to ascend from obscure European draft pick to bona fide NHL star status this season.
He has, in fact, arrived.
Better late than never.
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