Hands up everybody who didn’t make fun of or dismiss Zack Stortini at some point during his first three seasons with the Edmonton Oilers as he grabbed hold of the 23rd roster spot on the team with those scabbed up-meat hooks of his and hung on for dear life.
That’s a rhetorical question because, let’s face it, everybody did — I could dig up 10 screens of comments here to prove it, but won’t — including me, even though I should have known better.
After his first 29 NHL games in 2006-07, I had Stortini pegged as a willing but overmatched palooka who’d never be more than a marginal fourth-liner on a team with no depth at forward.
Egged on by Bob Stauffer before he took Daryl Katz’s hush money, I fell into the misguided mob of Huggy Bear critics. I laughed out loud at what a no-skill meathead and waste of roster space Stortini was.
I remember Sponge Bob and I carving Stortini a new one for half-an-hour straight during one segment of Stauffer’s Total Sports show, one that was broadcast from just outside the Oilers dressing room at Rexall Place. I also recall doing several shoulder checks, wondering if listeners would be treated to the sounds of Zack beating the shit out of Stauffer and I on live radio.
Stortini let it slide.
He’s a player
Even though Stortini proved us wrong long ago, I’ve got to admit I never saw the kind of game he played in Wednesday’s 3-2 win over Tampa Bay coming.
He scored the winning goal in the second period, added an assist and traded punches with bloody knuckles soul-mate Zenon Konopka twice. It was his best game as an Oiler, and that’s saying something with how well he’s played the majority of this season, especially during this unlikely four-game winning streak.
For my money, Stortini, who just turned 24 in September, does more with less ice time than anybody on the Oilers roster. He seldom plays more than 10 minutes a night. He played just 6:22 Wednesday.
He fights. He checks. He does the dirty work. He even takes face-offs. Most of all, as those of us eating crow have come to know, Stortini competes every night. He does what he’s told. He’s a team-first player.
Given all the discussion about the DFF around here in recent weeks, and the counter-argument that at least some degree of patience is a virtue, Stortini is looking like Exhibit A when it comes to sober second thought and resisting a rush to judgment.
Stop right there
I don’t know about you, but from where I sit Jeff Deslauriers has pretty much shoved it up the backsides of his critics once and for all as to his ability to be a competent NHL starter during the 10 straight games he’s played since Nik Khabibulin’s back gave out because of wallet strain.
Deslauriers, 25, has had games he’d rather forget during that stretch, notably a 7-3 loss to Vancouver, but the body of his work this season tells me a lot of people were wrong about him.
In 13 games this season, Deslauriers is 7-4-2 with a 2.57 goals-against average, a saves percentage of .917 and one shutout. In 23 career games, he’s 11-7-2 with a 2.89 GAA and a .910.
I’m not saying JDD is the second-coming of Martin Brodeur or has even done enough, yet, to indicate he can be a top-tier NHL starter, but he’s damn sure better than people who were citing his lack of pedigree and so-so minor pro numbers were projecting him as.
His saves percentage in games during this winning streak have been .941, .943, .943 and .964. During a stretch that was supposed to solidify the DFF, Deslauriers has been, for the most part, outstanding.
Hindsight being what it is, I’m guessing GM Steve Tambellini wouldn’t have handed Khabibulin his fat four-year retirement package had Deslauriers put together this kind of impressive streak last season. He didn’t of course, in large part because Craig MacTavish left him to rot behind Dwayne Roloson and Mathieu Garon.
Again, clarity often only comes with time.
— Robert Nilsson was a nice, albeit unlikely, fit with Ryan Stone and Stortini Wednesday, and has been very good overall since returning to the line-up. Is Bobby teasing us again or has he finally, finally, finally figured it out?
— Tom Gilbert has put the brakes on his struggles through the early part of the season since being paired with Sheldon Souray. With a few more weeks like that, and with Denis Grebeshkov close to returning, should Tambellini start making and taking calls on Gilbert? Or is Grebeshkov the guy to go?
— Given the way Stortini, Stone and J.F. Jacques are playing, they’d make a killer fourth line and would free up Nilsson for a spot higher in the pecking order. The question facing coach Pat Quinn down the road is: how in the world does he make room for Mike Comrie and Fernando Pisani?
— Listen to Robin Brownlee every Wednesday and Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on TEAM 1260.