Over the last month, Milan Hejduk
has been one of the hottest players in the entire NHL. But in typical Hejduk fashion, his production has been understated in a sense, generally flying under the radar in the league’s landscape.
Heading into Wednesday night’s contest against the San Jose Sharks, Hejduk had recorded 18 points (4g/14a) over his last 12 games, which tied him for the third-most points in the NHL since Oct. 18. The only names ahead of him on that list were Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos, who had both totaled 22 points over that span.
The veteran forward added to his point total late in the first period of Colorado’s 4-3 overtime win against San Jose when his centering feed during a power play bounced off the stick of a Sharks defender and was redirected to Kevin Shattenkirk. From there, the rookie scored his first career goal by beating Antero Niittymaki with a wrist shot from the low left circle.
Hejduk’s assist was far from the biggest story during Colorado’s exciting comeback victory, but it also illustrates a point.
When you consider the consistent work Hejduk has put in through his 11-plus NHL seasons – which includes 340 career goals and 381 career assists – it’s a little strange to consider that he might be underrated within some circles. However, many of his teammates believe that’s exactly the case.
Defenseman John-Michael Liles is firmly in that camp, having spent his entire NHL career to date as Hejduk’s teammate.
“He’s one of those guys that you almost take for granted sometimes because he seems to do all the little things right and he’s playing fantastic for us right now,” said Liles. “I think a lot of people, not to say they write him off, but I think they tend to overlook him sometimes. He’s a guy who plays the game the right way.”
Brandon Yip, who at times has lined up on the wing opposite Hejduk, describes him as an all-around player whose poise and stability has a positive effect on the Avalanche’s young squad.
“I definitely noticed playing with him that he does a lot of things right out there and creates a lot of room for myself and Dutchy (Matt Duchene
),” said Yip. “He’s definitely underrated and he’s putting up great numbers this year, so that speaks for itself. He’s very skilled and always knows where you are. He’s a great playmaker and if he gets a chance anywhere around the net he’s going to bury.”
While Hejduk probably shouldn’t be expected to replicate his 2002-03 season - when he led the league with 50 goals and also chipped in with 48 assists - the 34-year-old’s production early this season has been impressive.
A model of consistency, Hejduk has cracked the 20-goal barrier in 10 of his 11 full NHL seasons (missing that mark only during his rookie year) and has recorded at least 30 goals five different times.
Through 18 games this season, the Czech Republic native is tied for the team lead in assists (15) and ranks second in points (20). As further proof of his reliability, Hejduk has put up points in 12 of his squad’s 18 contests in 2010-11.
Point production aside, Liles pays his teammate perhaps the best compliment a player can receive.
“With Hedgie I think the biggest thing is that you know exactly what you’re going to get from him each and every night. He’s got the same attitude, day-in and day-out, and those are the guys you love having on your team.”