There was a time, Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Guy Boucher said, when forward Teddy Purcell didn't realize just how good of a player he was.
It appears, however, that the Lightning do, thus explaining why the team signed Purcell to a three-year contract extension on Tuesday.
“I’m happy and relieved to know that I’ll be in Tampa Bay for the next four years,” said Purcell. “We had been talking about it, and I appreciate the faith that Mr. Yzerman and everyone in the organization has in me that allowed for this deal to get done.”
Purcell still has one year remaining on his current deal, but add in the three-year extension, and the Bolts forward is now set to remain in a Lightning sweater through the 2015-16 season.
That could bode well for Tampa Bay, for Purcell, 26, is coming off a career season.
He finished the regular campaign with a personal NHL-high 24 goals, 41 assists and 65 points that eclipsed his previous career-high totals in each of those categories set during the 2010-11 season. He also finished first on the team this past season in plus/minus with a plus-9 rating.
But it was his evolution as more complete player that solidified his value throughout a season, that for the Lightning, was riddled by injuries.
Take for instance when Vincent Lecavalier went down due to injury on February 18, Purcell stepped in and earned top minutes on both the first scoring line and number-one power-play unit alongside Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis. In the captain's absence, Purcell also ripped off a team season-high 11-game point streak with seven goals and 18 points in that span, helping the Lightning continue their late-season push towards a playoff spot.
“I felt like the past two seasons I’ve really played to my strengths, which have helped me become a full-time NHL player with Tampa Bay,” Purcell added. “I really don’t think there is a better fit for me and I still believe I can get better every day, so I’m looking forward to remaining with the Lightning and taking my game another step.”
For Purcell, who possesses a tremendous passing ability and an incredible shot to go along with great speed, his offensive skills set has never been in question. Rather, it was both confidence and consistency that eluded the Bolts wing.
But this past season, Purcell appeared to find success by doing more with less.
Although he finished third on the team in points behind both Stamkos and St. Louis, he ranked fifth among team forwards in ice time, averaging just 16:07 per game. By contrast, Lecavalier was third with 18:55 and Ryan Malone fourth with 17:41, yet they finished with 49 and 48 points, respectively on the season, more than 15 fewer than Purcell's 65.
The display, while impressive, was more than just a testament to Purcell's physical on-ice talents.
"Things like that also take a certain mental approach," Purcell said. "You can be in good shape and come out bigger and stronger, but night in and night out, the key is to be mentally focused and being ready to go. That was a big thing for me."
Just as big was his ability to break out of some old habits.
When he first arrived in Tampa Bay in March of 2010 following a trade with the Los Angeles Kings, Purcell admitted that the presence of such stars such as Stamkos, St. Louis and Lecavalier led him to have a pass-first mentality.
But after getting to know them and stepping into more prominent roles, Purcell learned to not waste as many opportunities, which started with utilizing a zippy wrist shot that was classified by teammate Nate Thompson as "outstanding."
The strategy seemingly paid immediate dividends, as Purcell was one of five Lightning players this season to score 20 or more goals. Hockey executives even tabbed him for Team Canada to represent his native country at the 2012 World Championships, at which he registered a goal and two points in eight games.
Fast forward to Tuesday however, and Purcell said he has his sights on yet another opportunity, this one with the Lightning.
“After getting a taste of the playoffs in 2011, I’m looking forward to getting back there,” Purcell said. “I know the expectations of not only myself, but the team as well are going to be high this season, and obviously the ultimate goal we’re all after is winning a Stanley Cup, so hopefully we’ll get that chance.”