Older, wiser, and more confident, St. John's native is bonafide an NHL star
Teddy Purcell enjoyed a career year this season, finishing with 24 goals and 65 points. Same total as Alex Ovechkin, one point behind Brad Richards and Patrick Kane. Six up on Rick Nash and five ahead of Corey Perry.
Fine company indeed.
But you know what? Purcell could be better.
"The thing this year is I was trying to be consistent," Purcell saying this week, as he clewed up his fifth professional (yes, fifth) hockey campaign. "I had patches last year where I wasn't that consistent. I wanted to take that next step as a player to be playing well game in, game out."
Mission accomplished ... kind of.
Like his Tampa Bay Lightning teammates, Purcell had his moments early on through 2011-12. He was a healthy scratch in Tampa's fifth game, against state-rival Panthers, and from Nov. 9 to Dec. 29, languished through a 22-game stretch in which he managed but one lousy goal.
From the all-star break, however, Purcell was lights out, with 12 goals and 38 points in 34 games.
In fact, only four National Hockey League players - Evgeny Malkin with 51, Steven Stamkos (45), Ilya Kovalchuk (43) and Joe Thornton (39) - had more points than Purcell from Jan. 31 onwards.
So imagine where he'd be if not for the slow start to the year?
Still, you'd have to think Purcell's arrived. In addition to the impressive shoulders he's rubbed with on the stats sheet, the 26-year-old from the east end of St. John's will be joining the likes of Ryan Getzlaf, Jordan Eberle, John Tavares and Evander Kane on Team Canada for the world hockey championship starting May 4 in Finland and Sweden.
His just-completed season was a carryover from the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs, when Purcell emerged as a Lightning scoring threat, with 17 points in 18 games.
Now, if he'd only shoot more often ...
"He's got to trust his shot," coach Guy Boucher says.
"Phil Esposito's always over me about shooting the puck," Purcell says of the Lightning's radio colour analyst and Hall of Fame player. "We get along good. He's always saying, 'You got to shoot the puck more!'
"It's cool listening to him."
It will be Purcell's first occasion wearing a Team Canada jersey in international competition, and if he wants to chat about what it means to don the maple leaf, pinning down Esposito is a good place to start. Along with his 717 career NHL goals, Esposito was front and centre in the 1972 Summit Series with his now-famous chiding of the Canadian fans following Game 4 of the series in Vancouver.
Of course, Purcell wasn't even born then. He wasn't around for Darryl Sittler's winner in the '76 Canada Cup and was only two when it was Gretzky-to-Lemieux in 1987.
But like any hockey-playing Canadian kid, he's a student of the game's history. And he recalls watching the world juniors every Christmas, and the world championship which coincided with the Stanley Cup playoffs every spring.
"It's going to be pretty cool putting on that Canadian jersey for the first time," he said.
One person who won't be joining Purcell overseas is teammate Stamkos, who's staying home to rest a barking shoulder.
Stamkos and Purcell played a lot together this season, a year in which Stamkos hit the 60-goal mark.
Despite playing with perhaps the game's greatest sniper, Purcell didn't have the urge to pass first, shoot later.
Perhaps earlier in his career he dished off the puck too often, for fear of being perceived as selfish.
"After the last couple of years here, I've gotten a lot more confident in my game, putting up better numbers. With Marty (St. Louis) and Vinny (Lecavalier), for a while there I was thinking I have to get these guys the puck, that I don't want them mad at me.
"But that's not how you play. After a while, you go and play and if there's a lane open, you find the guy the puck and if not, you take your shot.
"We were scoring goals every way this year. Lot of times Stamkos scored off my rebound or scored on deflections or battling around the net. It wasn't always the pretty one-timers that everyone thinks he scores every game.
"We really have some chemistry when everyone is playing their own game and letting it happen."
Purcell has one season remaining on his contract for $2,362,500 before he becomes an unrestricted free agent in July, 2013.
He would like to remain Tampa - "we're not that far off from being good again" - and believes there's a chance his Boston-based agent, Kent Hughes, could negotiate a contract extension with Lightning GM Steve Yzerman this summer.
And consider what others in Purcell's point range are earning - Pavel Datsyuk at $6.7 million a year, Richards at $6.6 million, Patrick Kane at $6.3 million, David Krejci at $5.25 million, Bergeron at $5 million - a nice pay hike could be in his future.
"Make some real money," he says.
Purcell is, of course, joking.
But laugh if you will, or shake your head. Those kind of numbers are par for the course for a player of Purcell's pedigree.
Robin Short is The Telegram's Sports Editor. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org