If you ever have wondered just how talented the superstars of the NHL truly are, the best way to measure their skill is to look at the caliber of the League's role players. When not competing in the world's premier hockey league, many of these non-star players are dominant performers. Former NHL forward Stacy Roest is a perfect case in point.
In 228 regular-season games with the Detroit Red Wings and Minnesota Wild, Roest had 28 goals and 76 points while primarily playing checking-line role. Roest didn't lack for scoring chances in his modest ice time; he simply struggled to finish plays at the NHL level. Although solidly built, he lacked size (5-foot-9, 190 pounds), elite-caliber speed and the split-second timing that makes all the difference between putting the puck in the net and the goalie making the save, or the defense recovering to break up the play or force an errant shot.
But Roest, like so many other players who never were stars in the NHL, is a magnificently skilled hockey player. He has been a scoring star at every level but the NHL. Now 36 years old, he has found a permanent home in the Swiss National League, playing the last seven-plus seasons for the Rapperswil-Jona Lakers. The veteran center, who has averaged well over a point-per-game in six of his seven full seasons with the club to date, is on pace for a career year. Through the first 13 games of the regular season, Roest leads the league in scoring with 5 goals, 15 assists and 20 points.
"Stacy is one player we always know we can count on to lead the attack. He brings a very high skill level," Lakers head coach Christian Weber told the team's website.
Before debuting in the NHL for Detroit during the 1998-99 season, Roest established himself as one of the top offensive players in the Western Hockey League and the American Hockey League. During his junior career with the Medicine Hat Tigers, Roest topped the 100-point plateau three times, including seasons of 115 and 120 points. With the AHL's Adirondack Red Wings and Grand Rapids Griffins, Roest twice averaged better than a point per game, topping out at 34 goals and 94 points during the 1997-98 season.
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Unfortunately for Roest, the NHL's Red Wings were so loaded with talent that he remained in the minors for three-plus seasons and his skills, formidable as they are, could not measure up to those of the team's top players. As a result, he had to adapt his game from being a top-line player to a part-timer on the lower lines who filled in on the upper lines on the rare occasions when the stars either were playing poorly or injured. Moving from Detroit to Jacques Lemaire's Minnesota Wild in 2000, Roest remained primarily a checking liner, achieving his NHL career best of 10 goals and 21 points (in a season limited to 58 games) in 2001-02.
But Roest still found himself becoming an in-between player who didn't have a clear-cut role in the NHL -- there were better (and bigger) purely defensive-minded players for the checking lines and better NHL-level offensive performers for the scoring lines. As a result, after returning to the Detroit organization for the 2002-03 season, he found himself back in the AHL, where he had 72 points in 70 regular-season games and 10 goals and 16 points in 15 playoff games.
Roest realized a change of scenery was in order. In the summer of 2003, he accepted an offer from the Lakers to play in Switzerland and never looked back, rapidly becoming a fixture on the Rapperswil-Jona team. He has led the club in scoring every season but one, and despite frequent roster turnover and a revolving door of teammates (many of whom are fellow former NHL players), Roest has found ways to establish chemistry with his linemates. In particular, he formed an effective one-two punch with former Carolina Hurricanes and Pittsburgh Penguins left wing Niklas Nordgren.
Unfortunately, the rest of the team rarely has followed suit. The Lakers have finished near the bottom of the National League standings in each of the last two seasons, placing 10th in the 12-team league in 2008-09 and 2009-10. The team's highest finishes during Roest's career with the club have been a fourth-place showing in 2005-06 after finishing fifth the previous season.
Through the first 13 games this season, the Lakers are in 10th, and already 19 points behind a powerhouse Kloten Flyers club that only has lost one game in regulation to date. Goal scoring hasn't been a problem for the Lakers; their 42 goals are tied for third-most in the league. But the club has had major problems keeping the puck out of its own net, yielding a league-worst 53 goals.
Trailing Roest atop the scoring charts in the import-heavy and generally defensive-minded league is a host of veteran players. The majority have NHL experience. HC Fribourg-Gotteron's Pavel Rosa (6 goals, 17 points) ranks second in the league, followed by teammate Sandy Jeannin (2 goals, 17 points), Jaroslav Bednar of SC Bern (the top goal-scorer with 8, among his 15 points), EV Zug's Josh Holden (4 goals, 15 points), Roest's Lakers linemate Nordgren (7 goals, 14 points), Fribourg-Gotteron veteran Julien Sprunger (5 goals, 14 points), Kloten's Tommi Santela (2 goals, 14 points), HC Davos forward Petr Sykora (7 goals, 13 points), long-time NHL forward and former National League scoring king Glen Metropolit (6 goals, 13 points), EHC Biel forward Rico Fata (6 goals, 13 points) and perennial Kloten mainstay Kimmo Rintanen (5 goals, 13 points).
We've got to find a way to win a game. He's played well in the minors, now he gets his opportunity. We tried [with Jonathan Bernier]. The way I look at it, you get opportunities and you make the most of it. That's what [James Reimer] did. Now another opportunity is here and Sparks ... you gotta grab it. Is he ready? We'll find out.
— Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock to the Toronto Star on recalling goalie Garret Sparks from the AHL to start Monday in his NHL debut
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