Stepping into the spotlight

They may be not the highest paid players on the Vancouver Canucks’ roster, nor are they the most experienced or the most skilled, but Alexander Edler and Steve Bernier have showed their value thus far in this year’s playoffs.

When it comes to their impact on the team both players have significantly different roles and therefore very different expectations. But what Edler and Bernier have in common is that through the regular season they likely had left Canucks’ fans, coaches and management wanting more than they got.

The package seems to be there in both cases.

Both have hulking bodies, seem to be conditioned well, possess above-average offensive skill and have wowed their respective organizations in the past – Edler in his first full season with the Canucks and Bernier when he scored 14 goals in 39 games as a rookie with Sharks. But both have yet to duplicate those seasons.

Many will argue that Edler, while earning the fourth highest salary among the team’s defensemen and recording a career-high in points, had his best season as a pro this year. And they may in fact be correct statistically but as a top-four d-man, Edler went about his work in a quiet, unassuming manner.

That’s a far cry from what was expected from him after he garnered his nickname “Little Ohlly,” after former Canucks’ defenseman Mattias Ohlund.

Ohlund at times when into the same type of silent funk as Edler. He was affective but not noticeable. That in many instances is what you want from a d-man but with Ohlund and Edler is exactly the opposite. Edler earned his nickname because of his confident, dominant offensive play without sacrificing defense, which mirrored Ohlund’s best qualities.

And now again it is apparent why Edler was so highly touted and compared to one of the Canucks’ best all-time defensemen. That’s thanks to his play in the first round of the playoffs.

In game one versus the Los Angeles Kings, Edler was a one man wrecking crew throwing his immense frame all over the ice, making plays offensively and defensively. He was arguably the most dominant player on the ice. Not only was the 24-year-old native of Ostersund, Sweden, noticeable
but he was likely the Canucks’ best player on the back-end throughout
the series. That’s something that didn’t even seem possible during the regular season but it clearly apparent in the deciding sixth game during which the 6-foot-3, 215-pound d-man made several stunning defensive plays thwarting many Kings’ scoring chances.

Bernier on the other hand battled an abdominal injury during the regular season which resulted in him getting in only 59 games and scoring 11 goals. While his 11 goal total was only three off his career average of 14, expectations of Bernier have been gargantuan since he arrived in Vancouver.

With his 6-foot-2, 215 pound frame and him being a right-handed shot, he was thought to be – like many a player in the past – a perfect fit for the Sedins. Bernier didn’t quite pan out as the third Sedin and has struggled to find a place on the team’s roster.

But this year – like last – in the playoffs, Bernier has shown why he is valuable to the team, even though he is clearly – whether it’s a good thing or bad – not the second coming of Trent Klatt.

Bernier’s work ethic, his big body and his desire to contribute has made his a perfect fit alongside Kyle Wellwood and the winger du-jour on the Canucks’ third line and in front of the opposition’s goaltender on the Canucks’ power play.

The native of Quebec City has oft found himself in the right scoring position and seems always to have failed to convert – much to the chagrin of the team’s stake-holders. But what that means is Bernier is doing something right and sooner or later it will pay off.

And so far, in the playoffs – where dirty, bang-and-crash goals are the M.O. – it has in fact paid off.

Bernier has scored four goals, which ties him for fourth in the league, one behind the likes teammate Daniel Sedin and scoring superpower Alex Ovechkin.

Maybe Steve Bernier and Alex Edler were saving their best for last, maybe they are made for the playoffs, or maybe it’s just luck. Whatever the reason, what it means is that the Canucks have at least two players playing above their regular season level.

It means that when players like the Sedins, Ryan Kesler, and Sami Salo are feeling the pressure to produce and cannot get it done – which hasn’t yet been the case – Edler and Bernier and role players like them will be there mop up.

It speaks to Vancouver’s new-found depth at forward and defense and Mike Gillis’ philosophy of having character players. It’s not really a tangible asset but it’s valuable.

Because when the spotlight is shining and the well goes dry, character wins hockey games.

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