Teddy Purcell had lunch with his Boston-based agent, Kent Hughes, in Beantown this week when the Tampa Bay Lightning dropped into town for a Thursday-night tilt with the Bruins.
Chances are, Hughes was buying.
Not that Purcell couldn’t afford a bite to eat. The Lightning, after all, is paying the product of St. John’s $750,000 this year to patrol the right wing.
No, given that 25-year-old Purcell is enjoying something of a breakout season, he’s making Hughes’ job that much easier when the agent sits down to discuss Purcell’s contract with Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman this summer.
Credit to Purcell: his sense of timing is impeccable.
When Lightning veterans Vincent Lecavalier (hand) and Simon Gagne (neck) were sidelined by injuries, new coach Guy Boucher turned to Purcell with an assignment to join the club’s top power play unit with Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis.
And he hasn’t disappointed.
Though he’s scored only once with the man advantage so far this year, Purcell has been a pleasant surprise for the Lightning with five goals and 17 points through 26 games, a tie for third in team scoring with Ryan Malone, trailing Stamkos and St. Louis.
“Being on the power play with those guys, he fits right in,” Boucher told the St. Petersburg Times.
“He’s got great vision. The first thing you see with his skills is his passing qualities; his ability to filter himself through the cracks, I always thought, was tremendous.
“But I always thought he was using it too much on the outside before. Whereas now, he’ll be using it around the net. He’ll be using it when he’s got the puck and when he doesn’t have the puck.”
These are the best of times for Purcell, who just purchased a condo in downtown Tampa, a short stroll from the St. Pete Times Forum.
But things weren’t always so rosy. It was a difficult year for Purcell last season, who languished under coach Terry Murray in Los Angeles.
The Kings signed Purcell as an undrafted free agent after his one and only year at the University of Maine. Following a rookie-of-the-year campaign in the American Hockey League (he was also named to the league’s first all-star team), Purcell split the 2008-09 season between the NHL and AHL.
Last year, he made the Kings out of training camp, at which time things went downhill.
When he wasn’t watching games from the pressbox, he was watching from the end of the bench.
Murray clearly didn’t have any faith in his 6’2”, 200-pound winger.
“I couldn’t sleep at night, I was overthinking everything,” Purcell said.
“I was losing confidence in myself. I was afraid to take a pass in practice, thinking the puck was going to blow off my stick. You can barely live like that, let alone try to play hockey like that.
“Mentally, I wasn’t there at all. This year, I’ve got my confidence back, I’m on a winning team, in a healthy environment. It makes all the difference in the world.”
While Purcell openly admits he’s been fortunate with a few breaks this year, he’s also made his own breaks, skating on a line with Malone and Dominic Moore.
But he’s also quick to praise Boucher, the former Hamilton Bulldogs AHL coach, another in the new wave of young NHL coaches who are teachers and motivators as opposed to the old-school yellers and screamers.
It was Boucher, Purcell said, who encouraged him to take the bull by the horns.
“The coaching is so much different than what I’ve experienced before,” he said.
“It’s unbelieveable, the work ethic and the enthusiasm he has. Everyone wants to go to the wall for this new guy we have, from guys like Vinny, who’s making $10 million a year, to the fourth-line guys. Everyone is buying in.
“It’s a great, fun environment. And I’m starting to feel like I’m a good hockey player again.”
Purcell is slated to become a restricted free agent when his contract expires at the end of this season. Though he tries not to think about it too much — “things can go downhill pretty quick, too” — you know Hughes will be seeking a multi-year deal when he and Yzerman begin negotiations.
“That’s part of the business, and you have to look out for yourself,” he said. “And you have to believe things will take care of themselves at the end of the day.”
Purcell’s game against the Bruins was the 136th of his NHL career. While he still considers himself to be a big fan of the game, the wow factor of playing in the NHL has worn off.
“The first couple of years, I couldn’t believe I was playing with these guys,” he said.
“I had to pinch myself. If I made a play, I’d say to myself, ‘I can’t believe I just got the puck past Rick Nash,’ for example. Or (Nick) Lidstrom.
“Now I feel like I belong ... I feel like I’m making a difference in games.”