Alexandre Burrows is usually the first player Canucks fans and followers think of when the topic of unlikely NHLers is broached. Burrows is a front-line star on one of the NHL’s top units right now, but seven years ago his rights hadn’t been picked up by anyone until Vancouver’s American League affiliate signed the agitator in October.
However, there’s another rising star on Vancouver’s second line who at one point was overlooked by every single squad.
Mason Raymond, who I’ve been drooling over this season since the first few games had been played — even though he recorded only one point through his first nine games — went undrafted as a bantam into the Western League and then again as a college kid hoping for a shot at the NHL. He was less than three months shy of his 20th birthday when the Canucks grabbed him in the second round from Minnesota-Duluth.
He scored nine goals in 49 games, then 11 in 72 to start his career and lacked the necessary tools needed to be a consistent scorer. But the one obvious trait he owned in spades, his speed, was sitting there waiting to be built around.
Having lightning-quick legs doesn’t automatically translate into success at the NHL level, even in the new structure. You look at a guy like Matt Lombardi who can hang with any quickster, but at 27, he’s failed to live up to the hype that kind of standout skill attracts.
The difference with Raymond, however, is that he takes his game to the net, using his speed for positioning and his smarts to deliver a scoring opportunity. And even though he’s advanced greatly in this part of his game, he still recognizes he has work to do.
“I still wish I could do it more, I don’t do it enough.” Raymond said. “Today’s NHL, that’s where goals are scored. Anytime you get to the net, good things are going to happen — it’s kind of a win-win. You’re going to get a good scoring chance or you’re going to get pulled down and there’s going to be a penalty on the play.”
Raymond, along with linemates Ryan Kesler and Mikael Samuelsson, has filled the second-line void that stung the team in their Stanley Cup drive last season. No matter how well the Sedins have played this year, it’s the second unit that will allow GM Mike Gillis to focus more on fine-tuning than soul-searching at this year’s deadline.
And it’s Raymond who allows Canucks fans some genuine underdog excitement for not only this season, but for years to come as the 24-year-old, self-proclaimed “late-bloomer” continues to refine his skill set and discover the fruits it can bear.