Stempniak Stepping Up

Lee Stempniak is stepping up. In this freshly minted NHL season, the Carolina Hurricanes forward is tied with Victor Rask for the team lead  in goals scored (4), and shares second with Jeff Skinner in total points (6). In what has been a somewhat of a languishing start for the ‘Canes, one of the few bright spots has been the play of Stempniak.

Who is Stempniak?

Stempniak, the 33-year-old veteran from West Seneca, New York, can best be described as a journeyman NHL player. Drafted 148th overall by the St. Louis Blues in the fifth Round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, Stempniak is now with his 10th team. During his NHL tenure, he has scored 188 goals and 238 assists.

While never rising to the level of “elite” status such as Sidney Crosby or Jonathan Toews, Stempniak can legitimately be characterized as “steady” or “reliable.” He has been able to be counted on most seasons to put up double-digit goals and plenty of ice time. When the Hurricanes announced that they had inked a deal with Stempniak last July, they noted that, “Stempniak has appeared in 28 career Stanley Cup playoff games, totaling 14 points (6g, 8a).” ‘Canes general manager Ron Francis said,

Lee is a veteran, skilled forward who will provide offense for our team, as well as leadership on and off the ice.

Here in the early stages of this season, Stempniak is doing as Francis predicted, scoring and providing real veteran leadership.

Top-Line Guy

As you may know, I am a huge fan of Rask’s play. He skated his way onto the Hurricanes a few years ago and has not looked back. He has earned a spot not only on the team, but now on the ‘Canes top line. Rask, Skinner and Stempniak are developing a strong early season chemistry. The recent mid-body injury to Skinner, however, may mean that Viktor Stalberg or Andrej Nestrasil will move to that line, with Nestrasil having recently been somewhat displaced by Sebastian Aho on the line of Nestrasil, Jordan Staal and Joakim Nordstrom.

The thing about Stempniak that stands out is his aggressive approach to the net. This is something the Hurricanes have lacked and needed for some time. Skinner used to charge the net before his multiple concussions, and has begun to be more aggressive. Stempniak is bringing the kind of “go for it” nature that Carolina needs:

If the ‘Canes can keep their top line playing as they have shown they can over the first few games of the season, they should have quite the offensive production over the course of the season. Of course their woes in goal are another story, and may torpedo what was supposed to be a season with a legit playoff chances for the team.