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Gritty Ott has evolved into a complete player

by John Tranchina / Dallas Stars

The transformation process has occurred gradually over several years, but the Steve Ott that Stars fans saw this past season is about as complete a player as the club has on the roster.

The gritty, agitating forward, despite modest size at 6-foot, 192 pounds, provides a physical presence on the ice, topping the squad with a career-high 252 hits in 2010-11, good for seventh in the entire NHL. It marked the third straight year Ott surpassed 180 hits and finished among the league’s top 20.

Steve Ott Highlights
Demonstrating his willingness to drop the gloves when necessary, Ott also piled up a personal-best 183 penalty minutes this past year, finishing sixth in the league.

On top of that, Ott has developed much more of an offensive element to his game over the past few seasons, registering 12 goals and 32 points this past year, surpassing 30 for the third straight season.

The 28-year-old Ott, the second-longest-tenured Star (behind captain Brenden Morrow) with eight years of service, has also grown into an important dressing room leader the past couple of seasons, wearing an A as alternate captain this year.

Additionally, he has evolved into a key penalty killer and a valuable face-off man, winning 56.6 percent of his draws this past year (winning 644, losing 494) to rank 10th in the NHL, after winning 56.8 percent of the 352 total draws he took the season before.

Add it all up and you have one of the Stars’ most versatile and indispensible performers.

“I want to keep the competitive side of my game intact and hopefully that will never change, because that’s kind of what built my foundation as a player,” said Ott, who averaged 17:09 of ice time per game this past season, an increase of 41 seconds over the year before. “But also getting an opportunity to play on the power play and in certain situations with guys definitely helps your points and statistical stuff. I think the main thing is getting that opportunity and staying with it, and when you’re playing with great players like Ribeiro on the power play, he’s going to make great passes to you, and if you don’t bury them, you’re going to be back off it.”

“He’s an important guy for our team,” said Dallas General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk. “I think every team would like to have a guy like Steve Ott on their team and we’re fortunate that we do. I think he’s realizing that his importance is evolving, too. He’s not a guy that just runs around and agitates any more, he’s a guy that we rely on to get scoring chances, to put the puck on the net, to create offense and he’s very capable of that. I don’t think he’s reached his full potential yet and that’s a good thing. For him, it’s all about energy and hard work and he has to play close to that edge. Sometimes he can’t go over that edge very much, but he’s the type of guy that’s a really valuable player for us.”

Certainly his teammates recognize the full range of Ott’s contributions to the club’s fortunes.

“You just see his game growing immensely,” said abrasive fourth-line forward Brian Sutherby. “You watch him out there, I’m sure his numbers could have been a lot higher offensively out there. He still continues to be that guy that gives our team life and is always going 100 miles an hour and is in people’s faces, always talking and making noise out there. And the fact that he’s been able to add that offensive side of his game and continue to still be that guy, he’s been a great player for us.”

“Obviously, he’s always been a major contributor on the ice and a major energy guy,” added versatile forward Toby Petersen. “Everyone kind of follows his lead when he goes out there chirping at guys, running guys over and scoring big goals for us. He’s not the biggest guy in the world and yet he’s out there punishing defensemen on the forecheck and just drilling guys and it gets everyone going. It makes us all realize that no matter how big you are or how small you are, you should be out there trying to play a similar style. It’s key for us to have him on the ice. He’s always been a locker room guy too, he’s such a vocal guy.”

That leadership aspect of Ott’s game, both through his example on the ice and by being vocal in the dressing room, took a major leap forward in 2010-11, as he helped fill the void left by departing veterans Mike Modano, Jere Lehtinen and Marty Turco.

“Any time you lose some major veterans that have been here a long time in the league that have a lot of great experience, someone has to kind of step up,” noted Ott, who also hit career-highs in 2010-11 with two short-handed goals and four game-winners. “And for us with maybe a little less experience, it’s not one or two guys, it’s a lot of voices in the dressing room now, and I think, collectively, if it’s a younger guy or a little-bit-older guy, the guy still has the same amount of voice in this dressing room.”

As for his recent success in the face-off circle, Ott has dedicated himself to improving that particular skill lately and it has clearly paid off.

“We work on it every practice or every pre-game skate as much as we can,” said Ott, who more than doubled his previous high of 535 face-offs taken in a full season. “We’ve all been extremely focused on it, that’s the main thing. We all have a mindset on the defensive side, and when you’re going to your strengths continuously, hopefully, we can continue to do that, it’s helping you win the puck.”

Another significant achievement for Ott this past season was the fact that he actually suited up for all 82 games, just the second time in eight NHL seasons that he accomplished that feat. For a guy that plays such a feisty style, it’s even more impressive.

So it’s not surprising, given the considerable sandpaper in his game, that Ott was battling through injuries down the stretch. In fact, he wound up having to decline an offer to join Team Canada at the World Championships in Slovakia last month due to a lingering ankle issue that required surgery to repair.

“All year, one of my ankles has been bothering me,” revealed Ott back in April, once the season ended. “I just have some bone spurs that have to be taken out from other surgeries, this will be number four on that ankle. It’s something I have to clean up, but other than that, it didn’t bother me skating. I have a couple other nagging little injuries, but nothing too bad to even think about missing a game or worry about.

“I’ll be fine for camp and being able to work out, it’s more for cleaning out and scoping it and making it move better again, that’s all. I can skate right now and have no pain - it didn’t really bother me, it’s more off-ice stuff, walking or running, that bothers me if you can believe that.”

It’s good to know that Ott will be ready to go again next fall, because the Stars will need him back at full capacity as they attempt to bounce back from missing the playoffs for the third straight spring. For a guy who thrives when the stakes get higher, Ott is determined to not experience this feeling again.

“The last few seasons have been extremely disappointing,” said Ott, whose first big playoff moment came in his second year when he scored an overtime game-winner against Colorado in the 2004 post-season. “It’s a ridiculously long summer, it’s not fun. So rest up, have a good summer, strong summer and be ready to go next year, because this not making the playoffs thing is not going to happen.”

And despite the disappointment, he views the future in a positive light, feeling optimistic about where the club is heading on the ice.

“This year was huge, it’s such a different feel from last year,” said Ott, the Stars’ first-round choice (25th overall) in the 2000 Entry Draft. “Last year was extremely disappointing not making the playoffs, but we were completely off systems, we weren’t completely in sync, it just felt like an awkward year. This year, it was such a fun year. I haven’t had fun like this in a long time. The guys were phenomenal, it was great to come to the rink and compete with them every single night. We were in so many games, you always know when your team competes the way we did, it makes it fun to know that these guys are all going to battle together.

“We were close. I think the core nucleus of guys that are still here makes it exciting to look forward to next year.”

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