The return of goaltender Mike Smith has the Phoenix Coyotes looking every bit like the team that made a surprise trip to the Western Conference Finals last season. Leading the way for the team offensively is winger Radim Vrbata, who continues to build on a 2011-12 season that saw him post career-high numbers in goals and points.
Vrbata’s three goals and 10 points this season lead the Coyotes, as he continues to be one of the most forgotten value players in the NHL. He scored 35 goals and added 27 assists for the Coyotes last season, and scored another two goals and five points during the team’s playoff run. The Coyotes re-signed him to a three-year deal in the summer of 2011, and he continues to provide great return on their investment of $3 million per season.
This season has seen Vrbata play on a second line centered by Martin Hanzal. Left wing Mikkel Boedker seems poised for a breakout year, and while playing with Vrbata has scored two goals and added five assists, good for second on the team.
In NHL stops with the Colorado Avalanche, Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Coyotes and Tampa Bay Lightning, Vrbata showed some promise but was never able to put it all together until landing back in Phoenix for the 2009-10 season. He scored 24 goals in his first season back in the desert, and now has 108 goals in 324 appearances with the team during his career. He continues to score big goals too, and his 23 game-winners for the Coyotes place him eighth all-time on the team leaderboard.
If the Coyotes are to return to the playoffs, Vrabata will be instrumental in getting them there. His early play indicates he is still a top performer, whether the rest of the league notices him or not.