True Grit: Jiri Hudler Is One of the Few Red Wings Doing the Dirty Work

John VukovicContributor IIApril 23, 2012

Jiri Hudler had a career-high in goals and finished second on the Wings with 25 despite being seventh among Wings forwards for ice time per game.

He was always regarded as someone with a high skill level, but too small and too soft to be a good NHL player.

For the first time in his NHL career, he was afforded an opportunity to show what he can do and was given more than 14 minutes of ice time per game.

Despite the career-high in goals, the most impressive thing about Hudler this year was the grit he displayed and willingness to do the dirty work to get the job done. He always battled in the corners and along the boards and, despite his size, won most of the battles. He worked hard defensively and Mike Babcock rewarded him with the most ice time he has ever been afforded as a Wing.

Hudler actually led the league in scoring amongst players playing less than 16 minutes. Steve Sullivan of the Pittsburgh Penguins was the only one among players who played less than 16 minutes a game who came close to Hudler's 50 points, with 48.

He had a slow start to the season, mostly due to lack of ice time, but Babcock eventually rewarded his hard work with extra time and united him with Valterri Filppula and Henrik Zetterberg, who was also having a slow start producing offense.

The new line sparked Zetterberg and he has averaged more than a point per game since. They were the Red Wings' best line. Hudler became the net-front presence on that line—like a mini-Holmstrom—and a lot of his goals were scored in close to the net.

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Red Wings fans were always aware of his skills, but even after demonstrating the grit lacking in most of the Wings' forwards all season and finishing second amongst them in goals, he still gets no respect, as most Red Wings fans suggest that he is not worth a raise.

A lot of Red Wings fans are hoping the Wings will get Alexander Semin, a real softie who had similar stats to Hudler but got a lot more ice time and is considered one of the softest and laziest players in the league. Semin will also command a lot more money than Hudler.

Red Wings fans are always complaining about lack of grit, yet want one of the softest players in the league and don't mind giving up on one of the grittiest, most productive players they already have. The grass is always greener on the other side. Most 25-goal scorers earn a lot more than Hudler and most Red Wings fans still consider him too small and lacking the grit that the Wings need.

I guess true grit doesn't show up on the stats, although that's why he was able to score as much as he did.