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Samuelsson signing paying off for Canucks

by Larry Wigge /

"He's more Canadian than Swedish. He's tough to play against and gets under your skin and can frustrate you because he's so strong. He'll fit in in a lot of different situations." -- Daniel Sedin on Mikael Samuelsson

Mikael Samuelsson isn't flashy, so he isn't going to drag you out of your seat. Instead, Samuelsson's one of those skilled players who gives you an occasional glimpse of greatness, and leaves you longing for more.
Like in Game 1 of the 2008 Stanley Cup Final for the Detroit Red Wings against the Pittsburgh Penguins, when the 6-foot-2, 218-pound winger outmuscled 6-7, 250-pound defenseman Hal Gill and then took on Evgeni Malkin and lastly, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
By the time he was done, Samuelsson had his second goal of the game in Detroit's 4-0 victory en route to a Stanley Cup title.
The Vancouver Canucks lured Samuelsson away from Detroit as a free agent this summer with an offer he couldn't refuse -- a three-year contract worth $7.5 million and an opportunity to get more ice time than he did when he was a third- or fourth-liner with the Red Wings over the last four seasons.
He's not going to turn into the third Sedin brother in Vancouver -- even though he played on a line with Daniel and Henrik Sedin for the gold medal-winning Swedes at the 2006 Olympics and the 2005 World Championships, where the threesome combined for 32 points in 17 games.
But then again ...
Mikael started the season on a line with Ryan Kesler and rookie Russian import Sergei Shirokov and scored a goal in his first game, a 5-3 loss at Calgary, on Opening Night. Two days later, the Canucks were blanked, 3-0, at Colorado and Samuelsson found himself on a line with Kyle Wellwood and Steve Bernier as Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault tried to find the right combinations to provide the Canucks with more offense than the Sedins put up.

With 10 goals and 8 assists in 26 games, Samuelsson has been part of the answer offensively for the Canucks, who are still missing Pavol Demitra, who is on the long term injury list.

Leaving Detroit was a hard decision for Samuelssson, who finally couldn't resist the the opportunity to play a bigger role in Vancouver.

"I had a great situation in Detroit, but sometimes you have to read the handwriting on the wall with the way the salary cap works and all -- and I felt my role with the Red Wings was a little stuck," Samuelssson said. "Here, I think I can be a top six forward.
"I kind of looked around at my options and when Vancouver expressed interest in me, it was no contest. I've always found the Canucks to be a tough team to play against.
"And I truly think they are one of the teams that have a great chance to win a Stanley Cup."
Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo is encouraged by the Samuelsson signing -- and not just because he is one of only two members of the team to have a Stanley Cup ring.
"Sammy and I played together in Florida and I've always thought he was kind of an under-the-radar player with the skills he has and the way he shoots the puck," Luongo said. "In Detroit, he learned how to play the right way -- effective both offensively and defensively. And ... he's still got those skills, which is good for us."
Samuelsson smiled when he heard what Luongo said and agreed.
"I've always thought I could do some damage in this league, and I still think I can," he said. "I came into Detroit four years ago ready to play a lot. It was an easy team to play for, especially for me as what you would call a late bloomer. I got more and more confidence each year I was with the Wings.
"That's the confidence I have right now. I believe in myself, I know what I can do out there. The records may show I'm 32, but I'm physically fit and have played only 400-some games in the NHL. Today I feel like I'm about 20."
Late bloomer? You bet.
After being picked by the San Jose Sharks in the fifth round of the 1998 Entry Draft, Mikael didn't really get his first NHL break until 2001 -- and didn't get much further for years. He bounced around four NHL organizations -- San Jose, New York Rangers and Pittsburgh before landing in Florida in 2003-04, where he scored just 3 goals in 37 games in an injury-plagued season.
Samuelsson is one of those players whose career took an upturn after the lockout in 2004-05, after he went back to Sweden and played a lot of minutes. Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland saw the new and improved version of Mikael Samuelsson in Austria at the World Championships that year and quickly signed him as a free agent -- even if he was already 27 and had amassed just 22 NHL goals.
Mikael responded with his career-high of 23 goals that season in Detroit. While he has always had an ability to use his big body to get off a lot of shots, his next-best season was 19 goals last season.
Not unlike a streaky shooter in basketball or a hot hitter in baseball, Samuelsson tends to produce in bunches.
"Sammy's one of these guys that's a way better player than he believes," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said after Samuelsson spurned Detroit for Vancouver. "I've always felt, if he had the confidence in himself that some of these other guys do he'd be a high-end NHL player."
The Canucks like this version of Samuelsson because of his skill set -- he's big, he's fast and he can shoot the puck. And he plays a tough-to-play type of game that Vigneault specializes in.
Daniel Sedin said that Samuelsson already has that part of the game, even calling him "Dirty" at one point in training camp.
"You can say that," said Daniel. "He's more Canadian than Swedish. He's tough to play against and gets under your skin and can frustrate you because he's so strong. He'll fit in in a lot of different situations.
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