|The Detriot Red Wings' Kris Draper may win the Selke Trophy this year as the NHL's best two-way forward.|
|CREDIT: Shaughn Butts, The Edmonton Journal|
It just may be the best dollar Mike Ilitch ever spent. It's been 10 years since the free-spending Detroit Red Wings owner forked over $1 to the Winnipeg Jets to acquire a wonderful skater with bad hands named Kris Draper.
After building a career of gritty defensive work through three Stanley Cups with his penalty-killing buddies Kirk Maltby and Darren McCarty on Detroit's Grind Line, Draper suddenly finds himself among the NHL scoring leaders.
He's got 23 goals, two more than teammate Brett Hull.
Draper may win the Selke Trophy this year as the NHL's best two-way forward. He's plus 25 with five shorthanded goals.
"I think the guys are excited for me," Draper says of his new goal-scoring ways. I mean, I always know what my role is on this club with all these great players, but this has been pretty special. I am trying to stay around the net a little longer than I usually do."
Before this out-of-body experience, Draper only had 84 goals in 657 games. In seven of his first eight years in the league, he scored eight or fewer goals.
The running gag until this year was radio broadcasters would go to commercial when Draper was roaring in on the net. The most goals he's ever scored in a year was 15 in the 2001-2002 season.
The parallels with former Oiler Todd Marchant are striking. Same size. Same speed. Same position. Same breakthrough offensive year. Draper won't likely be earning $2.9 million a year anytime soon, like Marchant is with the Blue Jackets, but his timing is impressive.
His contract runs out July 1.
Only Pavel Datsyuk, with 25, has more goals than Draper among the Wings. He's even found himself on the point on the powerplay. "I'm keeping him on a short leash, though," jokes coach Dave Lewis, who doesn't want Draper getting too full of himself.
"It's pretty neat sliding pucks over to Nick (Lidstrom) and Stevie (Yzerman)," Draper says.
Draper and New Jersey Devil's John Madden are the likely front-runners for the Selke Trophy, which goes to the league's top defensive forward. If he gets 30 goals, he could be a lock.
"It's a nice trophy that goes to complete players. You look at Mike Peca winning it. Madden. Jere Lehtinen. They put up good numbers and do the job offensively, too," says Draper.
Hockey's all about second chances but Wings general manager Ken Holland chuckles at the absolute blind luck the Wings enjoyed when they got Draper. He had scored 67 points in 135 AHL games and just three points in 20 NHL games.
"Doug MacLean (now Columbus GM) was running our minor-league team in Adirondack and, he was trying to stock it. For some reason, the Jets gave Kris away for a buck -- they just wanted to get rid of his contract, I guess. I don't know whose idea the payment was but that buck was a pretty good deal," says Holland.
"Any offence Kris gave us in the past was a bonus. He hadn't been put in another role until this year, where we needed points. We said we wanted other people to step up though with (Sergei) Fedorov gone and (Igor) Larionov gone.
"Pavel Datsyuk's done it. Henrik Zetterberg's done it. And certainly Kris has. Early in the year when we had six forwards out, he was playing 18, 19 minutes a night and the puck started to go in."
"I'm using a stick with a little more flex to it," Draper says. "But that's the Brett Hull influence. Lots of guys have done the same since he came to us."
The Edmonton Journal