When Valtteri Filppula signed with the Islanders over the summer, the expectation was that he’d help revive the team’s penalty kill and bring a reliable veteran presence down the middle.
Filppula wasn’t necessarily counted upon to be one of the team’s top point producers, but 23 games, 16 points and one goal-of-the-year candidate later, the Isles are getting even more than they bargained for from the savvy Finn.
“I’m just happy to see the puck go in,” Filppula said after scoring on the Isles first shot in consecutive games vs Carolina and Washington.
The Islanders are too. As of Nov. 27, Filppula’s seven goals are tied with Anders Lee and Josh Bailey for second on the team, while his 16 points are fifth. Filppula has eight points (2G, 6A) in his last seven games.
“Val is deceptive. You talk about hockey IQ and the experience he brings to the locker room, he’s one of the guys that everybody I think appreciates when you get to play with him,” Barry Trotz said. “He’s come in and done exactly what Lou wanted and he’s been a big part of any success that we’ve had.”
Bailey said he’s not surprised to see Filppula’s offensive numbers at the quarter mark, or the type of flash he showed dangling through four Carolina Hurricanes players on Saturday night. Filppula’s had some productive seasons in the past, hitting 66 points with Detroit in 2011-12 and scoring 25 goals with Tampa Bay in 2013-14.
“He’s been a guy that I always admired when I watched him play and played against him,” Bailey said. “He sees the ice so well, he has smarts for the game, always seems to be in the right position and make the right play.”
Thomas Hickey compared the 34-year-old Finn to Frans Nielsen, the reliable two-way center who played for the Islanders from 2006-16 and also happened to wear 51.
“They’re like the same player,” Hickey said. “Just so good in every zone, such a responsible player and no one protects the puck as well for their size as he does. He’s been a huge addition for us.”
Filppula has been a key part of the Islanders penalty kill. He’s averaged 2:34 SH TOI/GP this season – the most of any Islanders forward – and has formed a reliable PK duo with fellow Finnish import – and linemate – Leo Komarov.
“Val’s been a huge piece for us this year and I’m sure he’s going to continue to be,” Bailey said. “That line, him and Leo in particular, whoever seems to play with them seems to do a great job. Kuhnny is certainly an example of that. They’ve all been big for us.”
As for professionalism in the room or Stanley Cup experience, Filppula said he’s just trying to do the same things he’s always done, whether it was in Detroit, Tampa Bay or Philadelphia and hopes it rubs off. Even at 34, he still feels he can learn from some of the Islanders younger players as well.
“You try to do things as well as possible and hope for some younger guys that they can take and learn, but it goes both ways,” Filppula said. “I still learn a lot of things from the young guys, so whatever I can bring and help, that’s always a positive thing.”
Filppula said he’s felt re-energized since joining the Islanders and in turn, he’s helped give the Isles an offensive jolt.