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In praise of Justin Williams

Jun 5, 2014, 1:08 AM EDT

2014 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game One Getty Images

Justin Williams rightfully earned the nickname “Mr. Game 7,” yet his overtime game-winner to open the 2014 Stanley Cup Final is just the latest argument for why he means much more than that to the Los Angeles Kings.

“I’ve said this many times. Justin is the most underrated player on our team by a mile,” Drew Doughty said after Game 1 on Wednesday. “He doesn’t get enough credit for what he does.”

“There are two guys on this team that I want to give the puck to, and that’s him and Kopy. When they have the puck, plays happen.”

A lot has been happening for Williams lately. The 32-year-old generated four goals and nine assists for 13 points in his last 11 postseason games. He has 20 points in 22 playoff games overall in 2014. It’s clear that he’s shining in every game as of late, not just the most important ones.

Over being underrated

The thing is, Williams isn’t just underrated; he’s one of those guys who continues to be underrated even after years of being considered underrated.

As Dustin Brown explained to the Los Angeles Times in 2012, Anze Kopitar draws a lot of the scoring attention and there’s the kind of heat Brown draws:

“And maybe I draw some attention,” Brown said. “Maybe not a threat-to-score standpoint. But I want-to-kill-you standpoint.”

Brown believes that Williams prefers to fly under the radar a bit. That’s a good thing because it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle on Kings team that employs Brown, Doughty, Kopitar and Jonathan Quick. Then again, a search of “Justin Williams underrated” spits out message board threads discussing how unappreciated he was with the Carolina Hurricanes back in 2007, so maybe it’s just a way of life for Williams.

Dominant in subtler ways

Along with having some bad injury luck over the years, Williams might also go unnoticed because he hasn’t generated huge regular season numbers. He’s far-removed from back-to-back 30+ goal seasons with Carolina in 2005-06 and 06-07, yet Darryl Sutter explained what makes Williams such a sneaky-dominant player when he isn’t scoring huge goals.

“He hangs onto the puck, goes to traffic, hangs onto the puck, makes the plays,” Sutter said in May. “Takes a beating to make plays. He’s a role model for young players, for sure.”

“That’s the big thing now is the stat, the possession stat, that guys talk about. Justin is for sure one of the top guys in the league.”

Indeed, Williams’ possession numbers are eye-popping. In fact, he’s been so dominant that some believe that he benefits linemate Kopitar more than the other way around.

Does Williams drive play more than Kopitar? That’s up to debate, but the fact that you could make an argument for Williams begs the question of where he might rank among the league’s elite:

The Kings have Williams locked up through next season at a bargain cap hit of $3.65 million, so GM Dean Lombardi likely hopes that the versatile forward remains “underrated” (and underpaid) for a little while longer.

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  1. blomfeld - Jun 5, 2014 at 1:16 AM

    Praise Williams … and praise ‘he’ the captain of our glorious enterprise ! :)

    GO KINGS GO !!! … TODAY, TOMORROW AND FOREVER !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • joey4id - Jun 5, 2014 at 10:34 AM

      JT = Conn Smythe? Or will it be Kopitar?

  2. bek3017 - Jun 5, 2014 at 1:18 AM

    Players the flyers got rid of: Williams, carter, Richards,and sharp all Stanley cup champions…just let that sink in Philly fans lol

    • phillyphanatic77 - Jun 5, 2014 at 12:56 PM

      This is true however it’s not as if we gave all 3 to the Kings (and for nothing). Justin Williams was traded 10 years by Bobby Clarke, who hated youth. It was terrible trade… I mean Danny Markov straight up for a talented player in his early 20s? Idiotic. But we didn’t give him to the Kings. Carter went to Columbus where he pouted and did nothing. And the Flyers got Couturier and Voracek, two players on the upswing, for him. That’s a clear win for Philly in that trade. Mike Richards was the only one traded directly to LA and he’s a solid heart and soul type but he’s also had a precipitous decline offensively. And he’s locked in to a long term contract. Brayden Schenn will never be a special player but he is just 22 and coming off a 20-goal season. The guy’s gonna be a 20-25 scorer most of his career. And what else can you say about Simmonds? The guy is a great leader and produces offensively.

      So yeah I’d much rather have a Stanley Cup or two but people need to stop acting as if the Kings somehow fleeced the Flyers. There are former Flyers all over the league, it’s the nature of the business.

  3. khmerson562 - Jun 5, 2014 at 1:45 AM

    Philly can have mike Richard back and give the kings back Wayne Simmons and Brayden schenn.

    • patthehockeyfan - Jun 5, 2014 at 8:06 AM

      go jump in the pacific ocean, will ya’?

    • joey4id - Jun 5, 2014 at 10:37 AM

      Well! I’m sure the Kings would like that, but you know the Flyers won’t. Seriously thought, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Kings let Richards go next year. His lack of speed is more and more apparent, and it may be the reason they let him go.

      • patthehockeyfan - Jun 5, 2014 at 11:26 AM

        http://prohockeytalk.nbcsports.com/2014/05/28/mike-richards-buyout-candidate/

        When this topic was brought up on the NHLN last week, Brad Richards’ name was also mentioned. Can’t remember the commentator’s name; but, his first remark was that talk of trading, buying out, etc. of these two was disrespectful. Both are on SCF teams right now. While I agree with the disrespectful remark, it’s difficult to justify a fourth-liner making $5.75 million (MR).

  4. 311sucks - Jun 5, 2014 at 8:14 AM

    i’ve been saying this for a while now. the dude plays with a huge heart and knows how to put the puck in the net. he gets the job done and more but not many appreciate him for that. that celly last night was pretty wonky though hahahaha

  5. billiam55 - Jun 5, 2014 at 9:15 AM

    wth was girardi thinking though?

    • joey4id - Jun 5, 2014 at 11:35 AM

      Where was McDonagh and the rest of the Rangers? They had turned up ice much too soon leaving Girardi alone to defend against three kings.

    • joey4id - Jun 5, 2014 at 12:54 PM

      Doug MacLean knows more about the game than I do, and said that as a coach you continuously tell your players not to turn up ice until you’re sure the puck is on its way out of the zone.

    • phillyphanatic77 - Jun 5, 2014 at 1:07 PM

      He was clearly trying to clear the puck up the boards, but he was also outnumbered in his own zone. It was a mistake but think about how many times Girardi has saved goals. The guy’s solid. It was a high pressure situation; it happens to the best of em.

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