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, two players, or the team is coming off a good week — there will be multiple spotlights.
Any time a team begins to struggle in the stretch to the postseason, it’s always the veterans that are called on to lead the way.
For the New York Islanders, that position has gone to Valtteri Filppula.
Filppula, who signed a one-year, $2.75 million, has resurrected his career of sorts with the Isles. Considered a depth signing after former captain John Tavares bolted to Toronto, g.m. Lou Lamoriello and head coach Barry Trotz saw something in the 34-year-old that made him a viable commodity. He has repaid the favor to both with his solid two-way play throughout this season.
As the club’s preliminary third-line center nearly the entire year, Filppula has scored 15 goals and added 13 assists for a modest 28 points in 66 games. That number has him eighth among point-producers on the club. Those stats might not jump off the page, but look back at the Islanders production from its bottom-six forwards last season, and Filppula’s numbers look extraordinary.
Offensively, Filppula has looked the best he’s had in years.
Before this season, the left-shooting center was coming off three rough campaigns where he scored 23 goals total in 219 games. His last truly productive season came in the 2014-15 season when he notched 48 points for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Where the Vaanta, Finland native has excelled in his role with the team, 1) Defensively, 2) Penalty Kill, 3) Guiding force for the young kids.
Filppula has arguably been one of, if not, the Islanders best defensive forward since the season started. He’s impressed as the anchor of the third line for a team that had to basically learn a new structure in a minimal amount of time. Filppula has thrived in Trotz’ system and taken some of the load off guys like Josh Bailey and Casey Cizikas. In the faceoff circle, Filppula has been a stable presence. His 49.0% conversion rate is sixth-best on the team. The ability to create turnovers has also made Filppula very valuable.
On the penalty kill, Filppula’s become an important piece.
As of late, the Islanders when down a man, have been sensational after going through their ups and downs for two quarters of the season. Filppula — along with Leo Komarov, and either the defensive pairing of Thomas Hickey-Scott Mayfield or Adam Pelech-Ryan Pulock — have made the Isles penalty kill a massive strength. The aggressive nature and defensive instincts have made Filppula a threat when the team is shorthanded.
What he’s done for the younger players on the team — Anthony Beauvillier, Michael Dal Colle and Josh Ho-Sang — is invaluable.
Beauvillier, when he’s needed a pick-me-up more than a few times this season has been placed with Filppula and Komarov, only to see that confidence, be restored. There’s a reason Trotz gave Filppula and Komarov that nickname “Fix-it Felix”. Both of them play with that grit and hard-nosed mentality that a young player could sometimes lose track of. When Dal Colle and Ho-Sang were given their shot with the big club, Trotz placed them right next to Filppula in the locker room. It seemed that Trotz wanted 20-somethings to take pointers from the veteran about how to be a pro.
Dal Colle and Ho-Sang also were placed on a line with Filppula as a nod to the veteran’s defensive mindset and attention to detail. Ho-Sang saw some success, but it was Dal Colle who benefitted greatly from playing with Filppula. Dal Colle is now getting regular playing time in the Isles push to the postseason.
After his hot start to the season, Filppula’s numbers cooled off a bit. But in the last two weeks, he’s looked rejuvenated of sorts.
— Rob Taub (@RTaub_) March 8, 2019
The two-goal night in the Islanders 4-2 win in Ottawa last Thursday was Filppula’s best game in a while. Make no mistake, the Isles don’t need and shouldn’t have to lean on Filppula for offense; when he has chipped in, it’s come in impressive fashion. He went pointless against Philadelphia but was still skating with a purpose.
Filppula’s teammates are going to need that type of attitude if they are going to right the ship these last few weeks of the season. The team right now has lost three of its last five games and has had difficulty in their own end as of late.
As a Stanley Cup winner in Detroit over a decade ago plus ten years worth of playoff experience under his belt, Filppula has that winning attitude and knows the metal it takes to also win in the playoffs. Trotz knows this and has seen it first hand from September till now. But with the season in its critical stages, Filppula might be asked to do more than expected.
No one could have dreamed how important Filppula was going to be for the Islanders. Now though, it’s on guys like him to help get his mates going and secure that elusive playoff berth.
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