"When I was in Philly with him, I knew he was a great player. He always had the skill, the shot, the speed. I think he got a better opportunity as he moved on. Give him a good opportunity, he's going to produce for you and that's exactly what he's done."
-- Ben Eager, on Patrick Sharp
Five years ago today, Patrick Sharp
scored his first Stanley Cup Playoff goal.
Back then, he was a Philadelphia Flyers
rookie, playing on the fourth line in his first NHL postseason. The goal came in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning
Now, Sharp is a bonafide top-six forward with the Chicago Blackhawks
, and he's back in the conference finals for the first time since then. He has five goals in 13 playoff games, and he provides veteran leadership on one of the youngest teams in the League.
"He's one of the favorites in the locker room, the guys really like him," Blackhawks GM Dale Tallon
told NHL.com. "He's a quiet leader, he's a class kid. He fits into our locker room as well as anybody."
It's a far cry from where he was five years ago in Philadelphia. Then, Sharp was stuck behind veterans Keith Primeau
, Jeremy Roenick
, Alexei Zhamnov
and Michal Handzus
. He was up and down from the minors over parts of three seasons, scoring 10 goals in 66 regular-season games.
Things turned for Sharp on Dec. 5, 2005, when Philadelphia traded him to the Blackhawks for minor-leaguer Matt Ellison
"We watched him in his draft year in college at the University of Vermont," said Tallon of 2001 third-round pick. "We saw him play very well there, good speed, good shot, good skills, all of those things, competed hard. And at the time we were in a position where we didn't have much speed in our organization. We were a big, strong, tough team but we didn't have a lot of speed.
"Patrick wasn't playing much in Philly. We called them and kept after them thinking that was something we needed to do. With the new rules we needed to get quicker and more skilled. We were able to convince them to make a deal and as a result he's been a big part of our success story going forward."
Going from a perennial title contender in Philadelphia to a Chicago team at the bottom of the standings at the time provided Sharp the opportunity he needed.
"We were rebuilding and we were able to afford him more ice time than Philly was," Tallon said.
Sharp was playing top-six forward minutes and in all situations for the Blackhawks, but his big break came when Denis Savard
replaced Trent Yawney
as coach during the 2006-07 season and installed an up-tempo, attacking style.
took over as coach and he really preached an offensive style of game, a really attack-first mentality," Sharp told NHL.com, "and that's when I kind of started to put the puck in the net a little more frequently."
Sharp finished that season with 20 goals in 80 games, but broke out last season when he posted a career-best 36 goals, including seven shorthanded goals and seven game-winning goals. He was on pace to score that many again when a knee injury cost him a month; he still finished with 26 goals in 61 games.
Blackhawks teammate Ben Eager
played with Sharp in the Philadelphia organization, and said he knew this could be the kind of player Sharp could grow into.
"When I was in Philly with him, I knew he was a great player," Eager told NHL.com. "He always had the skill, the shot, the speed. I think he got a better opportunity as he moved on. Give him a good opportunity, he's going to produce for you and that's exactly what he's done."
Sharp said playing for Ken Hitchcock in Philadelphia was a challenge, but five years later, he says the lessons he learned from the demanding Hitchcock are paying off.
"I'm not going to say it's no fun playing for Hitch, but he is demanding as a coach," Sharp said. "He demands a lot out of his players. At the time, 21-years-old, I didn't really understand half the time what he was talking about, but I learned through assistance and through what Hitch was preaching. I definitely credit the success I've had as a player to Ken Hitchcock."
The Patrick Sharp
of May 18, 2004 and the Patrick Sharp
of May 18, 2009 is more than just five years older. He's five years smarter, and is taking advantage of what has become a great situation in Chicago.
"He learned a lot with his time in Philly and he brought it here to Chicago where he got a better opportunity," said Eager. "He just turned into a true goal scorer. He's a dangerous player when he's out there."
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com