One of most difficult challenges that the majority of players face when they make the transition from major junior or collegiate hockey to the pro game is carving out a niche for themselves in areas other than scoring goals. The majority of NHL role players – checking forwards, defensive defensemen, even many enforcers – were at some point standout offensive players at the sport’s lower levels.
In the NHL and even the AHL, the game moves at a faster pace than the junior and collegiate games. The quality of the defenses and goaltending is superior, and players throughout the league are more skilled and physically stronger than those at the lower levels. It can take several years to adjust, and the way that all but a few select players manage to stick in the NHL is to play supporting roles to their teams stars.
Over the course of his three-plus professional seasons, Flyers winger Andreas Nodl has gotten to know this process very well. An excellent collegiate offensive player at St. Cloud State who parlayed his skills into becoming Philadelphia’s second-round pick (39th overall) in the 2006 Entry Draft, Nodl has endured his share of hardships in the offensive production department. But he’s made up for it by learning to contribute in a variety of different ways.
“I think my role is to backcheck and forecheck, hopefully create a few turnovers,” he said. “It’s nice to score goals and feel like I can contribute that way, too, but the biggest thing is just to help the team win whatever way I can.”
|Andreas Nodl is the first Austrian-born player ever drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers. (Phantoms Photos) |
Coming out of college, Nodl was frequently compared to a fellow Austrian who took the USHL to NCAA to pro hockey path: Buffalo Sabres sniper Thomas Vanek. But as good a scorer as Nodl was in college (where he posted 18 goals and 40-plus points in successive seasons), Vanek was an otherworldly offensive talent in college and a top five pick in the NHL draft. He’s gone on to post a pair of 40-goal seasons in the NHL, and three seasons with at least 36 goals. That’s an unfair standard to expect of Nodl, and the player himself quickly realized that he’d have to become a well-rounded player at the pro level to stick in the NHL.
In his best AHL campaign (2009-10), Nodl posted a relatively modest 14 goals and 34 points in 65 games. At the NHL level, he only scored one goal and 5 points in his first 50 games over parts of three seasons before notching an empty net goal in the Flyers’ 6-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Oct. 26. Nodl was able to relax a bit offensively after getting off the schneid. Two games after the empty-netter, he scored the final of six Philadelphia goals in a 6-1 rout of the New York Islanders. Seven more goals followed – including a burst of three tallies in four November games – until the Flyers’ 5-2 loss in Anaheim on New Year’s Eve.
Thereafter, the goals stopped coming for the next month-and-a-half. Nodl endured an 18-game drought. He finally reached the double-digit goal mark on the season by virtue of scoring the Flyers’ second goal in a 4-2 road win over the Florida Panthers on Feb. 16. All the while, Nodl tried to focus on the other areas of his game.
|Andreas Nodl was drafted by the Flyers in the second round of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. (photo courtesy Neil Andersen, St. Cloud St.) |
“I try not to think about it too much, but, yeah, you know when it’s been a while since your last goal. You just have to keep working hard and eventually it will happen,” he said after the Flyers’ 3-1 win over the Dallas Stars on Feb. 5.
More important than his occasional goal scoring this season has been Nodl’s steady presence along the boards and the defensive zone. It was his strong play during 10 Stanley Cup playoff games last season that earned Nodl the inside track to a roster spot this year. He carried it over with a strong training camp to solidify his spot. For much of the current season, whether he’s been scoring regularly or not, Nodl has played on team captain Mike Richards’ wing. That arrangement wasn’t by happenstance.
“Nodl is a player we can move around the lineup and he’ll do a good job for us. He’s strong, fast and disciplined. I think he’s been pretty effective with Mike Richards. They work well together,” said head coach Peter Laviolette.
With the acquisition of Kris Versteeg, the Flyers have been able to better utilize Nodl’s versatility. He filled in for an injured Ville Leino on Danny Briere
’s line in the game that saw Nodl notch his 10th goal of the season. Just as important, Nodl later prevented a sure-fire goal (replays were too inconclusive to overturn a no-goal call on the ice) by sliding along the goal line. At the time, Philadelphia was leading by a 3-0 score. But considering that Florida subsequently scored the next goals of the game, Nodl’s play ended up looming large.
According to Nodl, it doesn’t matter to him which line he plays on. He’s just appreciative to have his number called and to know that, even if he makes a mistake, he’ll be back out there on the
next shift and in the next game. Although he refuses to take anything for granted, it looks like the soon-to-be 24-year-old Austrian has made it in the NHL to stay.
“We came close [to winning the Stanley Cup] last season, and we’ve had pretty good success so far this season. There are a lot of good players on this team. Everybody encourages and pushes you to be better, and it’s fun to come to the rink with a team like this,” he said.