By now, you probably know the deal: the Leafs acquired a whole bunch of second through fourth line forwards this summer and now have a lot more depth at the bottom of the lineup than they previously did and, going into training camp, should have about 9 or 10 players fighting for 5 or 6 jobs. We don’t always know all that much about the guys who are not star players, and since there were so many of them added this summer, I thought a project leading up to the season profiling these players would be a good idea.
Today we will look at Daniel Winnik. Here are the links to previous entries in the series:
Originally drafted in the 9th round, 265th overall, in the 2004 NHL entry draft by the Phoenix Coyotes, Winnik has, considering his draft position, carved himself out a very nice NHL career, owing mostly to his incredible work ethic and the hardness with which he competes.
Never a big scorer, the 6’2 210 lbs Winnik has played 490 career NHL games, scoring 49 goals and twice notching 11 for a career high. He had his best season in the league last year when, playing for the Ducks, he scored 30 points. Despite having his best year in the NHL, the Ducks declined to re-sign him and he had to take a $500,000 pay cut to sign a one year deal with the Maple Leafs this summer.
A home-town, Toronto born C/winger who shoots left and is a primarily a defensive forward. While his size and role suggest he should be more physical, Winnik has at times been criticized for soft play. Or, if not exactly “soft,” Winnik is criticized for not using his rather large body to more effect. However, it’s only fair to note that that is probably at least partly a product of people having a an idea of how a 3rd/4th line forward is supposed to play. Winnik may not run around the ice crushing people and getting into fights, but he is a strong defensive player who doesn’t take a lot of penalties, and that is in itself a valuable commodity. Winnik will be looking to find a home on Toronto’s fourth line this season.
The 29-year-old Winnik provides the Leafs with an above average penalty killing forward, whose defense is his calling card. His offense is limited, although 30 points is certainly a nice number for a player in his role, it’s not something that can be banked on. If he makes the Leafs, it will be as a penalty killer and a guy who can skate on the fourth line and not be a liability. The Leafs can use Winnik in a shutdown role, and his positional versatility and because he’ll chip in the odd goal, he should become a valuable member of the team.
Another good thing about Winnik is his skating. Should he make the team, he will fit in nicely with the Leafs, who hope to be one of the NHL’s fastest teams. Winnik isn’t the leagues fastest skater, but he is quick and extremely hard to knock off the puck, which is why he’s such a good penalty killer. People note that Winnik is also very calm, and that he doesn’t panic with the puck or lose his cool very often.
Honestly, for the money the Leafs are paying him, and considering that he skates well and is a way above average defensive player who can play multiple positions and line up on the 3rd or 4th line, the Leafs are getting a bargain here. The Leafs had one of the worst penalty kills last season and Winnik can only help improve it this year. If he puts up 20-25 points, helps give the Leafs a 4th line they can play more than six minutes per game, and contributes to an improved penalty kill, Winnik will provide some of the best dollar for dollar value in the NHL on his dirt-cheap contract.
Look for him to make the team and play a regular shift.
Covering the Leafs for the Hockey Writers.