When Mikael Samuelsson signed with the Vancouver Canucks as a free agent last summer, it wasn't exactly an attention-grabbing move on par with Marian Gaborik and the Rangers, or Marian Hossa and the Blackhawks.
But at three years and $7.5 million, Samuelsson has been a bargain. Teammates rave about what he's brought to the Canucks after spending four seasons with the Detroit Red Wings. Besides leadership and Stanley Cup experience, he also contributed a career-high 30 goals while playing mostly on the second line, a stark contrast to his time in Detroit, where Samuelsson was a third-line player who didn't get anywhere near as much power-play time as he has in Vancouver.
"He's been great that way," Henrik Sedin
said of Samuelsson's offense. "We know he's kind of an offensive talent to score more than he has. He was put in a different situation here, playing on the second line, more power play, and he's stepped up."
It's carried over to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, too. Samuelsson leads the League with 7 goals during the postseason -- he's scored in each of the first five games -- and he scored twice in the Canucks' 7-2 victory in Game 5 Friday that gave Vancouver a 3-2 lead against the Kings in their Western Conference Quarterfinal series. The series shifts to Los Angeles for Sunday night's Game 6 at Staples Center (9 p.m. ET, Versus, CBC).
"When pucks go in for you, you see a lot of net. And I see a lot of the net right now," Samuelsson said. "I'm not going to lie. I feel comfortable and I feel comfortable with my shot and the way I play."
The Canucks went to the first intermission of Game 4 trailing 1-0, and coach Alain Vigneault decided to make a move. He replaced Alexandre Burrows
with Samuelsson on the top line with Daniel and Henrik Sedin
, and it paid dividends in the third period. Samuelsson tied the game at 4-4 early in the third period, and while he wasn't on the ice for Henrik's game-winner with 2:52 remaining, the line clearly had life it was lacking for most of the previous two games.
"Sometimes you've got to make some adjustments here and there," Vigneault said. "Samuelsson was going well and the twins needed to pick up their game a little bit, and I thought that sparked them a little bit for the remainder of the game."
When asked if his presence on the top line was what made the difference, Samuelsson deadpanned, "Pretty much," before eventually cracking a smile. "No, no. Absolutely not. Once in a while, it's both mental and you need to see something else, I guess. It's going to be good for both me and the twins."
Samuelsson's offensive punch has been a bonus. It's not as though he wasn't expected to score at all when he got to Vancouver, but it was his influence in the locker room -- and maybe even his sarcastic sense of humor -- that was a big selling point for the Canucks.
In that sense, he's been worth every penny.
"I think over the course of the season, he's been great," Henrik said. "There's a lot of ups and downs, and I think going through it in Detroit, where maybe he didn't have a lot of downs, but in the playoffs he knows what it takes. He knows it's not going to be an easy road. You're going to be down in games and down in series. Sometimes you're going to think you're out of it but you have to keep doing the same things."
"Mikael's one of our veteran players with a lot of playoff experience," Vigneault said. "He's real good on the ice but he's also real good in the room with helping our guys handle the moment, and obviously (in Game 4) he had another real big game for us.
"In our meetings where we discuss certain elements that we need to do, he always has a good knowledge of what's going and he's not afraid to share it with the group."
When he's asked about his time in Detroit or how this Canucks team compares to his Red Wings teams that went to the Stanley Cup Final the last two seasons, Samuelsson doesn't exactly jump to answer them. He usually says politely that he'd rather not talk about Detroit and he'd rather keep the focus on the Canucks, a team he believes can go the distance this year.
"I see obviously a good team," Samuelsson said. "I don't see just one good line. We have depth here. If we play our system like we should, we should go far."