Let’s take a ride back in time. We’ll go the summer after the 2009 season. The Detroit Red Wings were still sore from losing the Stanley Cup in game 7 and more bad news was on the way. Marian Hossa signed with the Chicago Blackhawks. Mikael Sameulsson signed with the Vancouver Canucks. Jiri Hudler went to the KHL.
What? The KHL? Who leaves Detroit for the KHL? Who leaves Detroit period, but the Hudler signing was the most surprising. He wasn’t just leaving Detroit; he was leaving the entire NHL.
Let’s fast forward a bit. We are now in the 2010 off-season. The Wings clearly realized they needed to balance the line-up. The top forwards had been worn down in the 5 game series against San Jose. Enter Mike Modano and Jiri Hudler. He was back! The team got a legitimate second/third line player to help take some of the scoring load off of guys name Pavel and Henrik. Only it didn’t work out…at all.
Modano was hurt early in the year. Hudler was a non-entity. He didn’t score his first goal until mid-November. He had 6 points at Christmas. Mike Babcock ended up pairing him with Pavel Datsuyk for a stretch of time, which saw his production increase significantly. He had 22 points in January and February before disapparing March through May. He only contributed 3 points in the playoffs.
Let’s come back to the here and now. And as I’ve said several times in past posts, I understand that 4 games is a small sample size, but Jiri Hudler is a point per game player. Through the first four, he’s got 2 goals and 2 assists. Remember it took him until Christmas to get 6 points last year. He’s got four, and we aren’t even at Halloween.
The best part about the four points? He hasn’t been on a line with #13 for all of them. Hudler was paired with Pavel for all of the first game and a half of the regular season.
Now Jiri is paired with Val Filppula and Johan Franzen, and he’s still producing. He set up the game winner in Colorado off of Franzen’s stick. He assisted on the insurance goal against Vancouver. He channeled his inner Tomas Holmstrom to score the game tying goal in Minnesota. And he’s doing it with two other forwards who needed to be better this season.
It was always scary when the Wings could put out a Pavel and Hank on seperate lines. It’s tough enough to stop one, let alone both of them. Imagine how scary the Wings will be if they can be together and still have a second line that can score. As I said in my week in review post, so far so good for line two.
Hudler is a big part of the success. It isn’t a fluke either. He spent the off-season training with a UFC fighter. I can think of a lot of ways to get tougher and stronger. I think Jiri Hudler may have found the best.
Now we just have to hope it continues. Part of the problem against the Sharks the last two years has been production away from #13 and #40. If Franzen, Filppula, and Jiri Hudler can handle the second line, I don’t know anyone that likes the idea of a full year of Pavs-Hank-“Whoever”…anyone outside of Detroit that is.