Every week of the 2018-19 season, our Rob Taub will discuss one player from the Islanders to look out for. Whether it’s past performances, certain matchups, or something about that player that makes worth spotlighting, each article will describe why they are being featured. Also — if one or two players, or the team is coming off a good week — there will be multiple spotlights.
No one could have imagined the impact Valtteri Filppula has had in the short time he has donned the Islander uniform, except maybe two guys: Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz.
Filppula, 34, was signed by Lamoriello — along with fellow veteran Leo Komarov — on the first day of free agency to a one-year, $2.75 million dollar deal just mere hours after they were informed that franchise center John Tavares was leaving for Toronto. When the team announced the signings, there was a lot of questionable looks coming from fans and critics alike. Those questioning the signing seemed to have the same feeling that Filppula’s best years were behind him and that this was just another way to halt the youth movement that the franchise seemed destined for after missing the playoffs the past two seasons.
But bringing in someone like Filppula, was just Lou’s way of trying to find players who could re-establish an identity for the organization. Lamoriello said it himself to MSG’s Stan Fischler back in the summer.
“I like his experience. He’s a leader or quality human being,” Lamoriello told Fischler.
Some of that experience Lou was alluding to — over ten-plus years as a pro, winning a Stanley Cup in Detroit, and helping guide the Tampa Bay Lightning reach the Cup Final in 2015 — has already begun to show through the first quarter of the season for the Islanders.
Filppula through 19 games has 12 points and has earned the third-line center role impressively.
Who saw that coming after a rough campaign in Philadelphia last year and a not-so-hot preseason? His penalty killing and overall gritty mentality have been a breath of fresh air for the bottom-six. Look back at the entire season last year from the Isles bottom-six, and you can make the argument that Filppula has done overwhelmingly more to produce in the smallest of samples sizes than almost nearly four-fifths of what the team was throwing out. He’s the kind of player the Islanders desperately missed last season. The offensive metrics (can be confusing) might not say it, but Filppula plays the right way and plays hard. That’s what Lamoriello and Trotz want to build — a team that is the hardest working team every single night.
“They’re true pros,” Trotz described Filppula and his fellow European Komarov to Newsday. “Sometimes there’s a lot more value in the intangibles. They know how to play and they’re committed. Those are intangibles that you can’t put any numbers on.”
— Rob Taub (@RTaub_) October 19, 2018
Not even looking at the whole season, Filppula’s impact has paid off in more ways that one. Just last week, he was one of the catalysts that led to the Isles storming back from down 2-0 against the Rangers for a 7-5 win. Filppula had three assists that night. And more than that, he seems to have found some good chemistry with one Anthony Beauvillier. Him, Beauvillier, and the aforementioned Komarov are gelling as line. Trotz said that line was the best line in Sunday’s 6-2 defeat to the Stars.
“He’s honestly got a little (Pavel) Datsyuk in him,” Beauvillier reiterated about Filppula late last week to Arthur Staple of The Athletic. “He always seems like he’s in the right spot to make a play. There’s not too many guys who can make the pass to me he made (for the breakaway goal).”
Getting high praise like that — Filppula did play with Datsyuk for eight seasons — proves that Filppula’s addition has been a success so far.
Could he fall back in to place that everyone expected? Maybe. But with the way Filppula is playing and producing at the moment, the case can be made that he was the best addition that the Islanders brass made during the offseason.
For the Isles to continue make noise, Filppula just needs stay the path.
Watching him each game, the comfortability factor keeps growing and he’s thriving with the ice-time being given to him.
With three straight division opponents and points up for grabs this week, Filppula will need to be at the top of his game.
He got his first taste of the Rangers-Isles rivalry last week with three points, but seeing them Wednesday should have Filppula up ready to provide a repeat performance. Going up against heavy forechecking teams — New Jersey and Carolina — back-to-back this weekend should pose a good challenge as well.
There’s a whole lot left to determine how both Filppula and the Islanders turn out this year. But if Filppula can stick to what he’s doing now, both he and the team might continue to turn heads.
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