Who will be this year's Ville Leino?
Every time the playoffs roll around, different players emerge into the spotlight for each of the sixteen teams involved. Players that were once unnoticed and far from household names are suddenly the talk of the league. The Philadelphia Flyers are no exception to that trend. In 2008, we saw RJ Umberger absolutely explode into a scoring machine. In 2009, despite a disappointing first round exit for the Flyers, Claude Giroux gave fans a peek at what to expect from him in the future as he got guys like Pierre McGuire talking about him. And in 2010, thanks to injuries, Ville Leino got his chance to break into the starting lineup and became a part of one of if not the best line combinations in the playoffs.
There are just ten regular season games remaining for the Flyers. Guys like Danny Briere and Jeff Carter are looking to be in perfect form with clutch performances that we've grown to expect from them when it matters (yes, I said Jeff Carter). But there is still one guy, maybe more than one, waiting to shift gears and make a name for himself when it counts even more in the games that follow the first 82.
Due to their "elite" status in the NHL this season and also because of their deep run in the Stanley Cup playoffs last spring, the Flyers don't exactly have many secret weapons. The roster is filled with well-known guys that everyone looks out for such as Briere, Giroux, Richards, Carter, Leino, etc.
So that leaves us with a question: Who is left to be this year's Ville Leino? There is no wrong answer of course, because we obviously cannot see into the future. But it's fun to get excited with the prospect of a player on this Flyers team breaking out come April.
Three guys that you could pick would be James van Riemsdyk, Andreas Nodl, or Andrej Meszaros (who says it has to be a forward?)
James van Riemsdyk had a disappointing Stanley Cup Playoff run last year. He finished with just 3 goals and was even scratched for two games in the Stanley Cup Final. He just flat out struggled. Nothing ever seemed to go his way. In his sophomore season now, it is an experience that he can look back on and learn from. There is a reason JVR was drafted second overall, and there is a reason the Flyers turn down every single trade that involves him. The Flyers expect JVR to continue to improve and to blossom into a star player. He has been having a very good season. It is possible that he could finish with his first 20 goal season. The thing with van Riemsdyk is that he seems to score in spurts. He was a healthy scratch earlier this seaosn and then came back on fire like a man on a mission. But when he cools off, it can last quite some time. RJ Umberger was the exact same way. He was a bit of a streaky player. But the playoffs change players, and it would not be surprising to see JVR catch fire and just keep going.
Andreas Nodl has posed so many questions this season. He started out as a guy that couldn't buy a goal but then turned into a different player. As the season went on, however, Nodl went back to showing signs of a guy that could not finish. If he's going to be in the Flyers lineup, it's not going to be for the intangibles this time around. Nodl played in 10 playoff games last spring but finished with no points. That showed nothing. He was extremely successful and did what he had to do. Now the story is different. Just a few days ago it looked as if Nodl would be one of the odd men out for the Flyers, but it's funny how quickly things can change in 24 hours. Ironically, a deflected Nodl shot ended up breaking Jody Shelley's orbital bone at practice the other day and put him on the shelf for a month. That gave Nodl a huge opportunity last night, and he made the best of it and then some. Maybe Nodl wasn't playing to his potential and a dose of reality is what he needed to get him to emerge out of his shell and score some goals. Ville Leino started out as a healthy scratch last Spring and grabbed the reins when opportunity knocked. One would not be crazy to expect something similar from Andreas Nodl.
Andrej Meszaros has been such a pleasant surprise this season. Many people expected the same disappointing and underachieving player from Tampa Bay as opposed to the player with huge possibilities in Ottawa. Luckily for the Flyers, Meszaros has not disappointed at all. Not only has he been a big key to the depth at the blue line, but he has showed that he can certainly help provide the offense too. It's been great to have him at the point on the power play, and he has even been an overtime hero with two game winning goals. It's hard for a defenseman to play well enough to get the recognition that a forward would get, but it would not be surprising to hear Meszaros talked abut a lot this spring. The Flyers have two stars on defense in Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen, and you can bet that they will perform up to their capabilities in the playoffs. They would not take anything away from Meszaros. If he continues to have the success he is having this season, Meszaros could very well be turning many heads in a few weeks.
So who will it be? Only time will tell. Could it be someone else like Darroll Powe or Matt Carle? How about Kris Versteeg? We shall see. Regardless of who the player is, it will be thrilling no matter what.