Monday, May 19, 2008

Funny thing happening in Dallas

For one of our features this summer we were planning on doing a little "where are they now" type five year roundup with the group of Wilkes-Barre Scranton Baby Pens that were followed around and had their season made into a documentary by NHL Productions.

Well unlikely happenings have forced an early first entry to that feature.

Kuklaskorner pointed out an interesting article from Dallas about former WB/S alternate captain that year, Toby Petersen, and the lift that he's provided to the Dallas Stars in neutralizing the uber-dangerous Detroit duo of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.

How Petersen (generously listed officially at 5'10 and 197 pounds) has been able to foil legitimate stars has been something of a surprise. He left the Pens organization as a free agent after the 2003-04 season and caught on with Edmonton, spending two more seasons in their farmclub. "Petey" has great speed, good offensive instincts and is a real "heady" player but lacks the pure skill and an opportunity to be a regular NHL Top 6 forward. With the landscape of the bottom two lines being mainly filled out with grinders, checkers, PK specialists and young players, Petersen doesn't fill that niche either. He's been over-looked from the very beginning, when he was a 9th round draft pick of the Penguins in 1999. This is a player with 133 goals and 203 assists (336 points) in 506 career AHL regular season games, he has had success and admirable staying power in the professional level.

Then in the spring of 2006 he got called up for the taxi squad for the Oilers Stanley Cup final run and got two play two games in a 4th line capacity when the flu bug bit the Oilers lockeroom. Petersen made something of this opportunity, scoring the first goal in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals to help the Oilers win against the Anaheim Ducks 5-4.

Petersen hasn't been able to catch on in the NHL, going back to the minors for the past two years before he got the chance to play most of the season on a weak Edmonton team in 2006-07 [scoring 6 goals, 9 assists in 64 games]. Still he could not crack the youth movement of the Oilers and they let him slide where he signed on with Dallas' organ-eye-zation, where he was back to the familiarity of minor league life.

Until this spring, when (thanks to injuries) he's been in Dallas' lineup for 15 of their 17 playoff games, back to his role as a spare part 4th liner playing anywhere from 2-9 minutes on any given night. Until he got matched up against Datsyuk and Zetterberg when Dallas was down 3 games to 0 and seemingly had no hope. While, against all likelihood and reason, Petersen has stuck around and is now doing enough to get noticed again (if you're noticing this is something of a trend, you're catching on).

The NHL playoffs often produce unlikely heroes; guys who step out of nowhere and have a magical stretch of games (like John Druce in 1990 or maybe even Johan Franzen this spring) and then hang around but eventually fade away just as fast as they've come. Now it's looking like a center too small and not valuable enough to stick anywhere for too long (one with zero goals and zero assists this playoff at that!) is making a huge difference. Another reason why hockey, beneath the surface, is the most captivating sport.

It's good to see good people do well. We're pulling for you Petey, if only for tonight and Wednesday.

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