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Weal fitting in just fine

Jay Greenberg looks at the play and success of Jordan Weal since his recall

by Jay Greenberg @NHLFlyers / http://www.philadelphiaflyers.com

Small players will never make it in the NHL by being small-minded. With or without a chip on his shoulder, Jordan Weal will always really be 5-10, 178 pounds and playing to the same strengths that got him drafted. So he's really good not only at putting the puck in the net, but putting things out of his mind that are not under his control.

"As a small guy you have to believe in your game and yourself," he said. "That's 90 per cent of it; just knowing you can do it. " 

So, if a 102-point final junior season at Regina didn't get him selected any higher than the third round by Los Angeles in 2010, then Weal just had to eventually out produce most of the 69 more "projectable" guys taken ahead of him. If being the league's leading playoff scorer as the Kings' Manchester farm club won the AHL championship in 2015 didn't put him on the big team's roster that fall, Weal went back to work trying to win another Calder Cup.

And if, after being acquired by former Kings Assistant GM Ron Hextall in the January 2016 in the deal that sent Luke Schenn and Vinny Lecavalier to Los Angeles, Weal got into just four games the rest of the season-and not only because of an injury-he understood the Flyers were in a successful stretch drive. 

"Playing as well as they were, it's tough to change the lineup and bring in anybody else," he said. "I just bided my time, went to Allentown, and tried to get my groove back."

He did, becoming the best player in the AHL at the time of its All Star Game, when Weal was asked if being a 90-minute drive from Philadelphia made him feel any closer to the NHL than did New Hampshire-to-Los Angeles.

"Except to go to the airport to go pick up my girlfriend, haven't really thought much about Philly," he said, to which he adds today: "Whatever team I am on, you have to fully invest in it.

"If you are thinking of other places, you are not going to be giving your 100 per cent. Down in Allentown we were playing great because everybody was on board, sticking to the game plan. We didn't have guys thinking about Philly."

Weal thought about Philly only when he was called up to finally play for offensively-challenged Philly on February 11. Coach Dave Hakstol put Weal on top two lines, with players he could help and who could be helped by him. Currently they are Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds and, in Monday night's loss to Columbus, the captain had a point for the fourth consecutive game. 

Weal has three goals, which doesn't include one in a winning shootout against Florida that engendered hope the Flyers finally have found someone who can enable them to strike first after overtime. But the record shows Weal has always been as much facilitator as finisher. On the line, Simmonds is the go-to-the-net guy trying to open space for Giroux to create, but Weal can make the Flyers' star better in other ways.   

"Turning pucks over, making plays, shielding guys off, we do some of the same things out there," said Weal. "We can feed off each other both in the cycle game and rush game.Video: PHI@BOS: Weal nets Simmonds' pass on the doorstep

"I'm used to being in positions where I can play offense. It's nice to come up here and be able to do the same."

It's good coaching that puts players in the best positions to succeed. It's also good playing that makes coaches look smart. There have always been skaters who don't fit stereotypical roles whose production has made them impossible to ignore. Moving forward, the Flyers, who other than Simmonds, lack screeners to blind goalies, need to get bigger on their forward lines, but if Weal keeps scoring, they will get him in the lineup.

If not, he will patiently await his next opportunity. Despite being well under six feet, both Giroux and Danny Briere were first-round picks. With obstruction virtually eliminated from today's game, small, exceptionally fast, guys can flourish. If Weal had that kind of speed, he would have been taken higher, probably made the NHL much sooner. His No. 1 asset, probably even ahead of his soft hands, is a low panic point.

That extends off the ice, too, obviously. The day of his trade Weal had to wait two hours to hear from Hextall, who was in the air with his team to Minnesota. "First time I had ever been traded," Weal said. "A little weird, I didn't really know what to do beside call the people I wanted to know."

Not only did he wait three-and-a-half AHL seasons to play his first NHL game, but confirmation of Weal's first goal, scored in his fifth game, was held up for video review.Video: COL@PHI: Weal notches his first career goal

"It was pretty clear on the replay it was going to count," he said. 

See, it's all about remaining positive.

"It was tough last year to not be in the lineup but you just got to stay with it," he said. "Things work out for people who stick to the grind."

"But waiting this long for a chance definitely makes you appreciate it when one comes. It was a lot of bus rides. Getting that first goal made it feel very good to know all that hard work accomplished for you one of your goals.  

"At the same time, it's not over. It's really never over. I'm up here now but still need to keep improving."

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