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What's Next For Mikael Samuelsson?

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I was struck this morning by a post at Kuklas dealing with the missed shots of a mystery player and Paul remarked "...it is not Sammy." Wings fans warned u' that Mikael Samuelsson would go 'spoldy bones on the shins of those in front of his shots; after three straight seasons of pretty poor shooting in Detroit, they can't be blamed.

It was very similar to what Sharks fans told us about Ehrhoff; throw in Bieka's nose for hitting the glass and Bernier being Bernier and we had no shortage of guys finding anything but the net.

While Samuelsson did have his share of missed opportunities, but he also had a career season in which he ate up top six minutes and rewarded Vigneault with an offensive threat in all situations on the ice. Sammy was a big reason the Canucks exploded in scoring and his work alongside the Sedins in the post season helped show Los Angeles the door. No offense to the Jason Krogs of the hockey world, but Samuelsson has been the best FA pick up Mike Gillis has made so far.

Can Samuelsson improve on his 2010 campaign, has he peaked or will he suddenly slump back to a Wings-like third liner?

Anytime someone suddenly trounces their career totals, it's worth asking what conditions helped foster that. Playing alongside Kesler and Raymond didn't hurt; all three had career seasons in points. We know Kesler and Raymond have budding chemistry (see Michael Grabner in Florida for more on that) and Sammy's veteran leadership and two-way play helped complete the trio. Obviously the increased ice-time and responsibility was key; he said as much when he signed last summer. He certainly had no problem moving from Babcock to Vigneault. For all we know, he really loves the rain or is motivated by Tim Horton's blueberry fritters (and, of course, who wouldn't be?)

Sammy's first four seasons were largely forgettable; he barely played in San Jose and he added only nine points with the Panthers in 2003-04. His past five seasons have been a different story; for comparison, let's focus on his first year in Vancouver in contrast with his four in Detroit (averages rounded up):

2009-2010 w/Vancouver
2005-09 Average w/ Detroit
Increase  / Decrease
Games Played
74 70 + 6%
Goals 30 17 + 76%
Assists 23 23 same
Points 53 40 + 33%
+/- 10 12 - 17%
PIM 64 37 + 72%
ESG 23 11 + 209%
PPG 7 3 + 233%
Shots 219 221 - 1%
S% 13.7% 8% + 58%
ATOI 17:10 15:00 + 14%

With a modest increase in time, Samuelsson's shooting percentage shot up and padded his goal totals at ES and PP. All three far exceed his averages on the deeper Detroit teams who had the luxury to stash him away outside of their top six. An aside - I would love to see a chart of player's PIM averages before being coached by Vigneault. I have to think they all take a significant increase; whether or not that's a league trend is another matter.

But can he build upon these totals, ideally through the life of his contract? If Samuelsson returns to favorable situations with the right linemates (or plays the third Sedin), there's no reason to think he can't. Maybe a slight decrease in goals should be anticipated, but if his off-season conditioning remains strong, the ATOI Vigneault will serve up means he'll be given no shortage of opportunities to succeed. Let's say he doesn't build on them and he remains a 30 goal scorer for two more seasons; no one in the right mind would complain.

On the other hand, he turns 34 in December which - historically - suggests his best days are behind him. Generally Samuelsson is durable (81 games in 2008-09 was his best to date), but does put himself into situations that his body may not enjoy. Since the lockout he's missed 56 games due to injury or illness which isn't bad (he's granite compared to Demitra), but if Vigneault decides to use him in a pure checking sense or increase his PK time significantly, the probability for injury jumps.

Whether it's an injury or an off-year, a Samuelsson decline could be particularly painful. Last season he was sixth in points, second in goals and third in ESGs and, scanning the roster as of now, there isn't one guy who could replace that (by committee of course they could). We already know Alexandre Burrows is rehabbing his shoulder; a worst case scenario would be Burrows and Samuelsson both drop off significantly and Vancouver suddenly has to make up 65 goals, or roughly 25% of their production from one year ago.

Maybe the ace in the hole is to keep Bengt-Ake Gustafsson's cell handy. Should Samuelsson hit a dry spell, a few comforting words from Gustafsson should do the trick.