Almost from the day the Tampa Bay Lightning made him the No. 1 pick of the 1998 Entry Draft, Vincent Lecavalier has been the face of the franchise.
The past few seasons, however, he's been pushed a bit into the background. Steven Stamkos' ascent to superstardom, as well as the franchise makeover with the arrival of new owner Jeff Vinik, GM Steve Yzerman and coach Guy Boucher has put the spotlight in other areas.
However, that doesn't mean Lecavalier is any less important to the franchise now than he has been in the past.
He's third on the team with 12 goals and fifth with just 29 points -- but he's contributing far more now. He's taken the most faceoffs on the team (690) and is second in winning percentage (49.6). He also has 43 hits and 16 takeaways.
"Vinny was just a horse out there from the first minute to the end,'' Boucher told the Tampa Tribune of Lecavalier's effort in Saturday's 3-2 overtime win against the Hurricanes.
Lecavalier stationed himself in front of Carolina goalie Cam Ward for a tip-in goal, threw a team-high three hits and won 10 of 18 faceoffs.
"I'm happy that it's paying off for him again because he's been playing so well for a long time. He inspired the team, he inspired me and he inspired the fans, too, I'm sure as every time he picked up the puck the stands started going crazy and that's what it's all about.
Lecavalier still hears criticism that he isn't scoring enough. He certainly won't match the 52 goals and 108 points he had in 2006-07, but he knows he's helping the team, which entered Tuesday's clash with Philadelphia four points behind the conference-leading Flyers.
"I don't listen to outsiders, I listen to the coaching staff and my teammates," Lecavalier told the Tribune. "There is always going to be criticism. Even when you do well, there is criticism because some people find a way to say things. But overall, I think people have been very supportive, especially here in Tampa and we have been doing well as a team and I think people acknowledge that."
"Vinny is a great captain," one teammate, Marc-Andre Bergeron, told the St. Petersburg Times. "He's a great leader in this room first of all, and I think he is doing his job right."
And as far as his offense goes, Lecavalier has bought into Boucher's belief that playing better defensively will lead to more chances offensively.
"No, I'm not so focused on defense," he told the Tribune. "I think I just couldn't find the net at times. I think I just have to play a solid game defensively and the chances will come."
With 4 goals in his last three games, he must be right.
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @NHLAdamK