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Veteran leadership doesn't show in box scores

Friday, 02.05.2010 / 3:25 PM / Hockey's Finest Presented by Army

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

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Veteran leadership doesn't show in box scores
They lead by example, contribute in their own ways, and often are the most reliable players on their teams
Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby doesn't need to take a back seat to anyone when it comes to leading by example.

But don't think for a second that even Crosby wasn't taking mental notes when veteran Bill Guerin arrived at the trade deadline last season.

"It's fun and interesting to watch both of them (Guerin and Crosby) on a daily basis," Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said. "I think right from the beginning, Billy came in and took every opportunity to rip Sid and kind of jokingly banter with him any chance he got, and that's something that a lot of guys were apprehensive about doing since he's Sidney Crosby. But he's still young, and to Billy's credit, he spoke to him as if they had been friends forever."

Guerin always has been one to provide a little light-hearted humor in and around the locker room. At 39, he's seen his share of celebrations and forgettable finishes.

In 17 regular-season games following his arrival in Pittsburgh from the New York Islanders last season, Guerin produced 5 goals and 12 points. Against the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, he had 2 goals, including the overtime winner in Game 2, and 3 points in 6 games. He had 7 goals and 15 points in 24 playoff games on a line with Crosby during the Penguins' march to the Stanley Cup in 2009.

"Our biggest question with Billy was would he get his drive back -- did he have the passion and could he do it," Pittsburgh General Manager Ray Shero said. "We took a chance and all the credit goes to Billy because he proved that he still had the passion to play and he's been absolutely fantastic for our group on and off the ice."

Most importantly, Guerin doesn't need a letter on his jersey to be considered a leader in his own unique way -- whether that be razzing one of the NHL's premier players or chipping in on offense whenever possible.

The same could be said for Pittsburgh defenseman Brooks Orpik, 29, who ranked second in the League with 309 hits in 2008-09.

"Brooks has a unique combination that everyone looks for," former Pittsburgh teammate Rob Scuderi said. "He's got size (6-foot-2, 219 pounds) but he's also a fluid skater who can move. He's a scary guy to play against if you're trying to cut up the middle of the ice. If there's one thing that's going to stick out to me, it's his physical play and presence."

Orpik never has been one to shy away from a big hit or even put his body in the line of fire, as evidenced by the fact he ranks sixth in the League with 182 hits and is third on the team with 79 blocked shots through 49 games.

Islanders center Doug Weight is not much different than Guerin -- in terms of age and his ability to lead. Weight, three months younger than Guerin, is the 10th-oldest player in the League, though you'd never know it.

The fire still burns within the 18th-season veteran, but he's far from a hockey professor.

"I'm not a teacher," Weight told NHL.com. "I think it's all about being who you are. Sure, I'm going to take more time with the young guys since that's part of my job, but I'm here to play. When I get off the ice, I want to make sure the coach is looking at my number and wants me right back out there."

Rookie forward John Tavares has been a first-hand witness to Weight's propensity to lead.

"It's been great having him here because he's done a lot for me," Tavares told NHL.com. "He keeps the room loose, but also knows when to say things at the right time. He's such a good hockey player, too; sometimes I get a little bit amazed watching him out there handle the puck the way he does. I always know I have to kick myself in the butt when I realize I'm out there with him."

To Weight, personal gratification comes in the form of victories, not goals or points. And while it would be nice to pop one in every now and again, it's not as important as it once was.

"Doug's experience is an important part of it, but the biggest thing is his personality," Islanders coach Scott Gordon said. "He's a very upbeat guy and very personable and he brings a level of excitement as a 39-year-old that you would only expect from a rookie. He doesn't take anything for granted and is thrilled to be here and we're happy to have him."

Then there are those leaders who might not assume top-line minutes, but earn a living in the trenches. Such is the case with Detroit Red Wings veteran center Kris Draper, the consummate forechecker, faceoff winner, penalty killer and backchecker.

"Draper's a leader for us with his energy level and his commitment," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said.

On March 17, 2009, Draper became the fifth player to skate 1,000 games in a Red Wings uniform, joining Gordie Howe, Alex Delvecchio, Steve Yzerman and Nicklas Lidstrom. He reached that milestone despite the fact he's primarily used as a fourth-line player. He's also skated in 202 career playoff games, surpassing former captain Yzerman and trailing only current captain Lidstrom (235).

Injuries limited Draper to just eight games in the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but, as usual, he did everything he could off the ice and was a positive influence during the Wings' run to the Cup Final.

"To me, it puts everything in perspective how much I appreciate coming to the rink every day, how much I enjoy playing this game," Draper said. "As crazy as it sounds, even though I wasn't playing (during the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs), I stayed in my same routine as if I was playing, just preparing myself game in and game out. That's something that I was proud I was able to stick with and preparing myself for when I was going to get the call and when I going to be healthy enough to play."

That's Draper -- always willing to take one for the team. There aren't many who ever will forget the 1996 Western Conference Finals, when Colorado's Claude Lemieux drove Draper face-first into the boards, leaving him with a concussion, broken jaw, nose and cheekbone.

It was thought the hit would force Draper into retirement. Fourteen seasons later, he continues to battle and skate with the same ferocity as when he entered the League with the Winnipeg Jets in 1990-91.

Contact Mike Morreale at mmorreale@nhl.com

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