NEWARK–To end the team’s four-game losing streak, the Devils probably knew an effort from some of its key producers was needed. On Tuesday in Philadelphia, they got it. Despite never leading in regulation, they answered the Flyers 4-2 lead with a late second-period goal from Nico Hischier and a late third-period, net-empty tally by Taylor Hall. But when overtime wasn’t enough, they turned to Drew Stafford, a role player that’s been trusted with the game on the line.
Stafford netted the only successful shootout goal on Tuesday, helping the Devils defeat the Flyers and collect two points for the first time since Feb. 3. It was the third time this season the 32-year-old and veteran of 770 NHL games tallied in the game-deciding spectacle. He’s 3-for-6 on the season, meanwhile, the team is 2-1 when he’s scored. He’s 18-for-53 (34 percent) in his career, top among all Devils players, but it’s just one of the ways the utility-forward contributes.
“Early in my career I was used a lot–I went a lot,” he said. “For a few years, I really didn’t go a lot. The last couple of years, it’s really ramped up again. At this point in my career, if that’s one part of my role, then I need to do my best to help this team win games and excel in that if that’s the way that I’m used. You got to be ready for anything.”
Don’t let the term ‘role player’ fool you though–Stafford is still producing. With eight goals in 45 games this season, he’s already matched his output from all of last year, where he split 70 games between Winnipeg and Boston. He’s not far removed from a 21-goal campaign in 2015-16, either. So his success isn’t exactly perplexing.
“I scored a lot of goals,” he said. “I feel like I take pride in my ability to put the puck in my net. There is a little bit of science behind it–you know some tendencies. For the most part, I do my best to make the goalie think about what I’m doing and not let him dictate what I’m going to do. Shootouts have become a big part of the game and points are on the line. If it’s a matter of you getting one or two points–that’s huge.”
In two of the last four seasons, Stafford has found himself on the move. Coveted by teams for his ability to play throughout the lineup while contributing offensively. This summer he signed a one-year, $800,000 contract with the Devils. As they look to make a push to the postseason, he’s a wanted commodity that head coach, John Hynes is happy to already have.
“We’ve used (Drew) in a lot of situations–he’s a big part of our team,” Hynes said. “He’s a veteran guy that’s been around. He’s excellent with young players. He’s a true professional, he cares about the team. He wants to do the right the thing and that’s what he’s done.”
Hynes and the Devils have enjoyed Stafford’s versatility but especially like his team-first mentality.
“Sometimes if he doesn’t have his A-game, he’ll give you a B-game,” he said. “He understands that he can check and he has to play the right way. He’s an elemental player–good on the power play and shootouts. His mindset is he’s just trying to find a way to help us win. Whatever role it is, he’s trying to help us win and that’s why we have him and we’re happy with him and want him around a young team.”
Stafford, too, is excited to be part of what everyone within the organization hopes will be another step in the right direction.
“It was a great opportunity for me to come here and provide some veteran leadership and get the ship back on track,” he said. “We’ve done that here so far, but we’ve got a lot of work to be done. We feel like we’re just getting started here for the final push.”