Signed as a free agent out of the AHL on Saturday, the 30-year-old forward played well in his first game with his new team, even though the result, a tough 2-1 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, didn’t quite turn out the way he’d have liked.
With just one practice under his belt, Dallas eased Williams into the lineup, as coach Marc Crawford deployed him on the fourth line alongside Brian Sutherby and rookie Aaron Gagnon. In 7:57 of ice time, Williams delivered two hits and missed the net on two shot attempts, while working hard and looking like he boosted the squad’s energy level whenever he was on the ice.
“I thought he gave us a little bit, he had a couple of opportunities to get pucks at the net, to get his shot away,” Crawford said. “I thought the speed of the NHL, he’s probably still got a little bit of adjusting to that after being in the American League, but there’s no doubt that he’s a smart player. He puts himself in the right position, he’s above the puck all the time, he understands what’s going on out there and I think he’ll help us.”
With the Stars struggling through some injuries to forwards lately, with up to five regulars out of the lineup at once, the club has been utilizing as many as three players recalled from AHL Texas each night. As much as guys like Gagnon, Francis Wathier
, and Tomas Vincour
, among others, have filled in admirably, the acquisition of a proven NHLer with experience can only help, both on the ice and in the dressing room.
Skill-wise, the speedy Williams has several attributes the Stars like, not the least of which is his versatility. He can play all three forwards positions, has a very strong shot and displays good overall offensive awareness, as evidenced by the 12 goals and 29 points he scored in 39 games for Columbus in 2008-09. The 5-foot-11, 192-pound native of London, Ontario is also solid in his own zone and doesn’t shy away from confrontation.
Plus, the nine-year veteran boasts over 400 NHL games on his resume, and another 27 playoff contests, including a Stanley Cup from 2002 with the Red Wings.
“He’s a nice addition to our group. He gives us some depth and right now, we desperately need that,” Crawford said. “I don’t think there is anything but good that can happen from it right now. If he comes in and gives us a boost, it’s terrific. He’ll give us NHL experience and you can’t under-estimate how important that is. We’ve been really pleased with the contributions of Gagnon, Vincour, Wathier, and some of the other guys that have come up, but when push comes to shove in these intense games, you want guys that have been there before.”
The value of that playoff experience looms large, as does the high recommendations from players who have been his teammate before.
“He’s a smart player, he really thinks the game well, and he’s a big-time shooter,” said winger Adam Burish
, one of the forwards currently injured, who shared a locker room for parts of two seasons with Williams. “When I played with him in Chicago, he was always a guy that just found ways to get the puck to the net. He can shoot it hard and he scored a lot of big goals, too, when I played with him. He’ll be a guy that can help us offensively, and just another veteran presence. Any time you bring in a guy that has won a Stanley Cup and has been through that, I think it helps the club.”
“He’s a great guy, first of all, in the dressing room,” added Columbus captain Rick Nash, who skated alongside Williams in 2008-09, the only year the Blue Jackets have been in the playoffs. “He’s been around a lot of winning teams, won a Stanley Cup, and he knows what it takes to win. And on the ice, he’s a guy that can play in every situation. He’s great on the point on the power play and a guy that can score big goals.”
As much as Williams contributed to Columbus’ success two years ago, he was probably better in an abbreviated season with Chicago the year before, compiling 13 goals and 36 points in 43 games, so there’s no question the man is offensively talented.
But after enduring a difficult, injury-plagued 2009-10 season in Detroit, posting six goals and 15 points in just 44 games, Williams subsequently had trouble finding a job this year. He finally caught on with the AHL’s Connecticut Whale in December, compiling four goals and nine points in 17 games before receiving the call from the Stars on Saturday.
Needless to say, he is thrilled to be back in the NHL.
“I’m just very fortunate and very happy when I did get the call that they wanted to sign me,” said Williams, who also competed for Team Canada in the 2006 World Championships. “I just want to come in and try to do my best to help them out when I can. Whatever happens, however many minutes I play, I’m just going to try to go out there and play hard and see what happens. It’s a good situation. Even playing in Columbus, playing in Detroit, I’ve always like the city of Dallas. We’ve got good players here who really complement each other well.”
While much has been made about how strong the Stars’ chemistry has been this year, no one doubts that Williams will blend in seamlessly in that area.
“The guys will like him, he’s easy to get along with,” said Burish, who expects to be out at least another week, if not two, with his facial fracture. “He’s real easy-going, low-maintenance I guess I’d call it, so I think he’ll fit in well with our group. I think we got a pretty easy-going group as it is, easy to get along with, so he’ll fit in great. He’s a guy that, as a teammate, he’s fun to be around. He’s a good person.”
After just arriving in town Saturday and jumping straight into his first game barely 24 hours later, Williams appears to be a quick learner. His linemate Sunday was impressed.
“Obviously, we only had the one practice together, but he’s a very good offensive-minded player and I think he’s going to be a great addition for us,” Sutherby said. “He can play on many different lines and I think you can see the type of player that he is, that he’s going to help us down the stretch here.”
As Williams gets more comfortable with the Stars’ style of play and his new teammates, both his minutes and his contributions should increase.
“I’m just going to come in and play my game,” said Williams. “I shoot the puck, I’m going to finish my checks, and try not to do too much. I’m not going to score a hat trick every other game or anything like that, but I am going to chip in as much as I can offensively. I’m going to worry about trying to get the systems down pat these first few games here, just come to the rink, work hard, and show them what I can do.”