No one ever likes the person sitting in the back watching a situation play out exactly as predicted, only to raise their hand in the end to say: I told you so.
But today Anaheim Ducks fans could care less about being the annoying kids in class. Their team earned what should be deemed the biggest win of the Ducks’ entire season (regular and post) at the hands of a 22-year-old defenseman who last week was, much to fans’ dismay, playing for the Ducks’ AHL affiliate, the Norfolk Admirals.
But this morning Sami Vatanen wakes up not only in Orange County, but as the player hailed by Anahiem coach Bruce Boudreau as the best on the ice last night — for either team.
The season long roller coaster ride of a case for Vatanen to continue playing at the NHL level has never been based on failure to compete, but unfortunately one of a kid who is still just a kid. And the Ducks’ roster is deep enough that his spot playing with the big boys has yet to become a permanent one. But after his performance last night, the Ducks would be smart to figure out a way to keep this kid right where he is.
Vatanen’s presence in Thursday night’s win against the Los Angeles Kings might not show up on the point sheet this morning, but to anyone watching his 20:19 of ice time, the difference in having Vatanen on the blue line rather than not was crystal clear.
From his stellar performance on the Ducks’ first period power play that ended with Corey Perry scoring the first goal of the night, to his ability to skate the puck into the zone without much complication (much needed considering Anaheim’s “dump the puck” strategy from Monday night clearly did nothing), Vatanen brought an energy to the Ducks’ mental and physical game that has recently been running on empty. The young defenseman also, as per usual, brought back a cohesion to the blue line, a component of Anaheim’s game that is often hailed as their weakest.
Although the win was multiple components chalked up to Anaheim finally deciding to play their own game on Thursday rather than the Kings’, Vatanen only progressed the method along, making a strong case to free the Vatman (as Anaheim fans call him) for good.