Tomas Plekanec skates against the Philadelphia Flyers during Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinal. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Pre-season stats are a big lie, of course, full of false promise for bubble players before the reality of the regular season sets in.
Sure, talented Buffalo center Derek Roy led the league in pretend points last September and, certainly, the NHL's name players are well-represented in the exhibition scoring race. We're not saying the stars don't shine when it doesn't count, but pre-season is also a time for players on tryout contracts and two-way contracts, for third-year pro prospects and teenaged draft picks, to make an impression in the one or three or five games they get into.
And there's always a few out-of-the-blue performances, players who pile up points in a doomed attempt to reverse a pre-destined return to junior, college or the minors.
So, what better way to pass the time this late September than to check out who's playing first tuba in the Pre-Season Points Parade To Perdition? That is, which not-quite-ready-for-primetime-players are rising up and looking like they're ready to go point-for-point with Sidney Crosby?
Are there more NHLers or AHLers among the top 10 scorers? What aw-shucks-18-year-old will out-goal Alex Ovechkin before October becomes important? How many goalies will the Kings try out for the No. 1 job?
In honor of Dallas Stars hopeful Chris Conner, who was a runner-up to Buffalo's Roy in the 2007 pre-season scoring race, here's who's making a name for himself:
CROSBY DRAWS EVEN WITH DREWISKE
Sure, sure, you've all heard of kid superstar Sidney Crosby and his crazy hockey-playing exploits. Like how he was tied for second early pre-season in – no, not goals or assists or points – wait for it…shorthanded goals. With one. (Hey…it was early. We're working with what we got here.)
But have you ever heard of Davis Drewiske? (Here's a challenge: Say Davis Drewiske three times in a row as fast as you can. Here's a tougher challenge: Spell Davis Drewiske correctly three times in a row. OK…perhaps that's my own personal challenge. Where's Rob Blake when you need him? Just over in San Jose? Really? Strange.)
Pardon the confession digression. But Drewiske is a great example of a guy who comes out of nowhere. In another light, he's a great example of an undrafted 6-foot-1, 210-pound defenseman from Hudson, Wisc., who joined the Kings' American League affiliate late last season after four years at the University of Wisconsin.
He played five regular season games for the Manchester Monarchs and four more in the playoffs. He's at training camp to get a taste of The Life and, assuming all works out well, head back to the AHL to see if he's got what it takes.
But, for a while there, he was tied for second in the NHL in shorthanded goals with Sidney Crosby. And a few other guys. With one. In the pre-season. For a day or two.
MONTREAL'S GOAL: NO. 1 CENTER, PLEASE
Soon-to-be 26-year-old Tomas Plekanec, Montreal's anticipated first-line pivot, is coming off consecutive 20-goal campaigns (including 29 last year). And now he's having a fine early fall, with three goals and five points in three games. So what does it mean? Is it a false positive, or a sign of more good things to come?
Considering his three-season points trajectory of 29 to 47 to 69, you have to figure Plekanec's production will continue. Who knows, maybe he'll keep it going and take a run at 80 points. The Habs need Plekanec to be a No. 1 center, so he'll get every opportunity – hello, ice time – to step up.
Wiley veteran Ryan Smyth, meanwhile, was tied with Plekanec with three goals and showing he's healthy again – for how long, Rockin' Ryan, how long? – as was Crosby's wingman, Petr Sykora.
AND YOU THOUGHT TAMPA BAY'S DEFENSE WAS IN TROUBLE…
Then explain Matt Carle's four assists in three games. Can't do it, can you? Sayonara to San Jose, Mr. Boyle. Indeed.
Prediction: Tampa Bay will score – and surrender – 10 goals in a game this season. Maybe in the same game. More than once. With the Thrashers and Rangers cast as the opponents in either the victim or victor role. And the Hurricanes and Capitals. It could happen a few times. Exciting, though. Hoo boy, the Lightning will be a fun team to watch this season. As long as, you know, you don't watch the standings too closely.
What's that? Too harsh on the Bolts? To dismissive of their chances? Just not enough defense, folks, and a goaltending tandem of Mike Smith and Olie Kolzig that will have to prove itself every game. Tampa's defense-less, holey-goalie reputation has been no secret the past couple of seasons, and opponents are going to prey on perceived weaknesses until they're dissuaded.
KINGS FOR A DAY
Ah, yes, there's another beleaguered bunch in the crease, out there in Los Angeles. Jason LaBarbera is still standing as the No. 1 after three up-and-down seasons with the organization - up, as in the No. 1 for stretches, and down, as in down in the AHL for all of 2006-07 – but with seven other netminders invited to camp, including a couple of top prospects, he can't stumble.
Not with Jonathan Bernier and Erik Ersberg and Jeff Zatkoff around…and, apparently, Danny Taylor, who's hanging out with the league leaders in goals-against average and save percentage with the remarkably scant figures of 0.00 and 1.000. As in, eight saves in a period's work. Twenty minutes. Of pre-season glory.