PITTSBURGH – Veteran forward Kris Draper returns to the lineup for Game 4 tonight at Mellon Arena after missing five games due to injury. The center will replace Justin Abdelkader
on the fourth line where he’ll center Ville Leino and Kirk Maltby.
Draper focused on conditioning and maintaining a positive attitude while he sat out.
“I did as much conditioning on and off the ice as I could to prepare myself and there’s nothing like going out and doing it in the game, especially in this kind of atmosphere,” Draper said. “The intensity and emotion and everything means so much tonight. So I’ve prepared myself and I’m looking forward to going back out there with the guys.”
His presence on the ice tonight should boost the team’s face-off percentage and penalty kill success rate. He led the team in face-off winning percentage during the regular season and is known for winning key face-offs when the game is on the line.
“He’s the best guy in the face-off circle,” said Darren Helm
of Draper. “Just having him on the face-offs alone is going to be huge. He can win a lot of big draws for us in the D-zone when we need him.”
It’s been no secret that Detroit has struggled on the penalty kill this year, allowing three goals on six opportunities this series alone. Draper hopes to use his skillset to bump up the penalty kill success rate for the remaining games in the Stanley Cup finals.
“That’s been a big part of my career and part of my role with this hockey club,” Draper said. “When you get some face-off situations for sure on the PK so for me, I put a lot of importance and pressure on myself to go out and win as many draws as I can and make them come 200 feet right off the hop so if that’s the call I’m going to get, I’m going to go out and do that to the best of my abilities tonight.”
Opponents are well aware of Draper’s success on the penalty kill and in the face-off circle.
“He’s been relied upon to take a lot of face-offs so he takes it serious and works on it a lot,” Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby said. “He’s a role guy for them. He wins a lot of big face-offs and has got some speed and plays on the penalty kill.”
Draper’s focus on perfecting his face-offs and willingness to help the younger players has impressed Wings coach Mike Babcock.
“I think it's focus, I think it's mental toughness and professionalism. Taking a lot of pride in doing it,” Babcock said of Draper’s prowess in the face-off circle. “When you talk about leadership, Draper's been working with Helmer and Abby every day since they've been here. That's a big part of what we do here is passing it on.”
Even when he was unable to play, Draper used his experience to advise young players like Abdelkader and Darren Helm
during practice and even games.
“If they needed anything clarified, any questions that they had that if I could help them a little bit,” Draper said. “We take a lot of draws together and have fun with it. Those are the things that I wanted to do – everything I wanted to do in this locker room was just bottom line trying to be a positive influence around all of the guys.”
Helm has been soaking up Draper’s pointers and has really benefited from the advice.
“I just try to listen to him and it seems to be working so far,” Helm said. “I’ll take any advice he’s got.”