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Top Shelf: Why Mats does matter

Mats Sundin is expected to suit up for the Canucks when they play in Edmonton Wednesday night. (Getty Images)

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Mats Sundin is expected to suit up for the Canucks when they play in Edmonton Wednesday night. (Getty Images)

The Vancouver Canucks must understand better than most that not all point-per-game players are created equal.

Their dogged and eventually successful pursuit of Mats Sundin certainly indicates as much. People have questioned why Sundin, who’s likely to make his Canucks debut Wednesday night, was such a sought-after commodity over the past year. It’s because he’s a longtime Maple Leaf, people would reason. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be all this fuss over a guy who is a really good player, but not a truly great player.

Personally, I think the notion Sundin would be less valued if not for his association with Hogtown is a bit of hogwash.

Sundin has never won a Stanley Cup or major individual trophy. He’s never been named a first-team all-star and he’s been a second-teamer just twice in his career. The only time in his 17 NHL seasons Sundin hit the 100-point mark was when he had 114 points in 1992-93. His last 80-point campaign was seven years ago, in 2001-02.

All this ammo allows detractors to make a credible argument; Sundin is not a true difference-maker.

Don’t believe it for a second.

It’s tough to imagine a man who’ll be 38 in a month and hasn’t done much in the way of physical activity for almost a year can step in and make an immediate impact.

But three months from now, when the outcome of games feels like a matter of life or death for fans, Sundin can severely help their disposition.

Over the years, the NHL has been littered with point-per-game players who really weren’t worth a ball of used tape once the games really mattered. Did anyone believe Ziggy Palffy was going to lead their team to the Promised Land, no matter how many regular season points he got?

The Canucks already have three point-producers on their team who don’t really fit the mold of a Conn Smythe candidate. It’s well established at this point in their careers that the Sedin twins are quality, crafty hockey players. But Henrik and Daniel aren’t going to will a team to victory. They’re not going to out-gut the other team’s top two players in a seven-game showdown.

Pavol Demitra has seasons of 93 and 89 points on his resume, but isn’t likely to win a staring contest with another squad’s star.

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Sundin can do that. He can go head-to-head with another team’s premier pivot  – be it Ryan Getzlaf, Joe Thornton or Mikko Koivu – and emerge as the better player over a two-week stretch. That’s not to say he’s a superior player to those men overall, but in the context of a single playoff series, Sundin can outplay any one of those centers. He’s got the kind of 6-foot-5, 225-pound body that can carry a team further than it would otherwise get.

Some players are less than their numbers indicate; No. 13 is a bit more.

Sundin has never advanced to a Cup final, but has used the world stage to prove he can be an absolute terror when paired with quality linemates. He’s been Sweden’s best skater at a number of international events and that’s saying something considering the pedigree of players who have come out of that nation over the past 15 years.

Back in July, I thought it would take a lot more than Mats Sundin to make Vancouver a team any Western Conference power was going to lose sleep over. But the Canucks proved themselves a very capable club before Roberto Luongo went down with a groin injury and even in his absence, they’ve remained on the scene thanks to contributions from up and down the lineup.

Sundin is a big skill injection to a team that has a larger existing talent base than many projected and some serious grit to boot.

Forget the stereotypical image of laid-back west coasters; the Canucks are a thorny bunch who play tight defense. When Luongo rejoins the team a few weeks from now, Vancouver will officially become an undesirable travel destination for NHL clubs, no matter how good they are.

How good Sundin truly is has a lot to do with that.

Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Fridays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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