If the playoffs ended today, and they just might, Drew Doughty would probably win the Conn Smythe Trophy as post-season MVP. The Kings superstar defenseman who can beat you with flash and smash is a supreme talent and highly worthy of the accolade.
If not Doughty, then Anze Koptiar, the big, gifted Slovenian who leads the spring points’ parade, while superbly shutting down the biggest guns on the opposition, would likely be next in line for the prestigious hardware. He went toe-to-toe with Joe Pavelski/Joe Thornton, Ryan Getzlaf, Jonathan Toews and Derek Stepan and (so far) bested them all.
Combined with Jonathan Quick, when he’s on like he was in Game 3, they give the Kings the strongest down-the-middle trio of any team in the NHL.
Still, my inner voice is saying this is Justin Williams’ time.
The 32-year-old who has become famous for elevating his play when it matters most, has hit new heights in 2014. His Game 7 and elimination game stats are well documented (five points in three Game 7s; 11 in seven elimination games this year); not bad for a guy who has never finished higher than 36th in the NHL regular season scoring race. And that was eight years ago.
But it’s more than just the numbers. If you’ve watched him closely the past few weeks, it’s the nuanced plays, the quick bursts, the tenacity, the puck management, the ability to win the small battles that has set him apart and allowed him to excel in the most crucial of situations.
Take his assist to set up Jeff Carter’s back-breaking, game-winning goal in Game 3. Williams picks up the puck and accelerates with impressive jump through the neutral zone, instantly changing the speed of the sequence. He looks dangerous enough to draw the attention of two defenders. He then absorbs a hit to make a deft pass to Carter, the player he had helped spring. Carter then seals the deal.
It’s the type of play the Cobourg, Ont., native has been making all post-season, but most often at points in games to help the Kings win or avoid elimination.
No less an authority than Doughty agrees that Williams has been a special player, calling him the most underrated player on the club. “He doesn’t get enough credit for what he does,” Doughty told reporters. “There’s two players I want to give the puck to and it’s him and (Anze Kopitar). When they have the puck, plays happen.”
Williams typically fares well in the advanced stats world, when it comes to puck possession, and is tops in even-strength scoring this post-season. When he’s on the ice, he wants the disc, he has the ability to do something productive with it and the courage to see it through.
For the record, the Conn Smythe is selected in a vote by members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association. The vote could go several ways, and none of them would necessarily be the wrong call. In this race, though, I’d back the dark horse.