TORONTO - Nik Antropov was tied for sixth in points and second in NHL goals as he frolicked in practice with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday morning.
His sixth goal in eight games was the winner in a 3-2 victory over the Florida Panthers on Thursday night, and it bumped his points total to 11.
Yet, when his fabulous start was brought up as he pulled off the pads, he shrugged it off as if it were irrelevant.
"As long as it's going in, I'm happy, you know what I mean?" he said. "I've said so many times: I'm not a statistics guy.
"As long as the team is doing good, I'm happy."
The 27-year-old Kazakh loves to go bass fishing during his summers and there were Leafs fans who wished he'd run out of gas in the middle of Lake Scugog rather than return in a Leafs uniform this season.
He was an unrestricted free agent. After being drafted by Toronto in 1998 and debuting in the NHL as an awkward 19-year-old in 1999, his career was a long list of injuries and unfulfilled expectations.
Yet, GM John Ferguson gave him a two-year contract that pays him $1.95 million this season and $2.15 million in 2008-2009.
"What are you, nuts?" was a typical fan reaction to Ferguson's decision.
Well, the Antropov case makes Ferguson look like Sam Pollock today because the six-foot-six forward in the size 10???? skates has finally come into his own.
Ankle and other injuries limited him to 54 games last season but, if he's lucky enough to avoid another injury this autumn and winter, he'll have his most productive campaign.
"I feel good," he says. "As long as the team is doing well, everybody is happy."
He skated on a wing with centre Mats Sundin last season but, with second-line centre Kyle Wellwood recovering from sports hernia surgery, coach Paul Maurice has been using Antropov at centre. It looks as if it is where he truly belongs.
He says he has no preference.
"Wherever Paul is putting me, I'm going to play," he says. "I'm not picky."
At centre, as opposed to the wing, "You have to be more responsible on the defensive part," he says. "There is more of a challenge to play centre than the wing."
He's up to it.
"He's a very, very smart hockey player," says Maurice. "He may not be the fast guy on the ice but his size makes him effective down low.
"We've used a lot of different options at centre, using a number of different guys who were not bad at all, but we needed a little bit more, and Nikky has provided it. His size alone, to have Sundin and Antropov 1-2, is an advantage."
Antropov, a father of two, says he never considered moving when he had the chance.
"It's a great town to play hockey in," he says of Toronto. "First of all, my family has been raised here.
"That's the main factor."
Antropov's ice time last season was in the 11-to 12-minute range, and Maurice has him out there nearly 20 minutes a game now.
"I thought he was playing very well for us last year but he seems to have got to another level," says Maurice.
Besides hooking bass, Antropov has gone deep sea fishing off the coast of Florida and in the Caribbean.
"When you get it, you feel like a winner," he says of landing a giant of the ocean.
It is too early to tell if the Leafs can be a winner, he says.
"It's only eight games we've played. 'We're back to .500 after a pretty good game and hopefully it'll give us a boost for the next few games."
The Chicago Blackhawks visit Saturday night, and the Leafs will face a backup goalie for the fifth consecutive game. Coach Denis Savard will have Patrick Lalime in the nets.
There was speculation Wellwood might make his season debut Saturday - until he left a Thursday workout early and sat out the Friday practice.
"I don't know what's going to happen," he said, explaining he's been experiencing soreness. "I don't think it's anything serious but it's nice to take a day off.
"It's coming up to four weeks after surgery. I feel real good strengthwise and physically but I just didn't want to have any relapses. It's a tender situation with the groin. You never know the exact recipe to get back to 100 per cent health. You watch the games and you want to get out there and play but you want to be smart so when you come back you can play every game."
Forward Boyd Devereaux sat out Thursday with a sore back and won't resume skating until the weekend.
Defenceman Carlo Colaiacovo continues to labour with a sore knee and there is no indication when he'll be fit to play.
Maurice said forward Mark Bell will play his first game for the Leafs when he finishes serving his 15-game league suspension. That would put him on the ice in Ottawa on Nov. 6.