Valtteri Filppula never was going to make anyone forget departed captain John Tavares when he was signed earlier this summer, but the veteran center already is conjuring comparisons among his teammates to another significant player to leave the Islanders as a free agent in recent years.
“As a player, we all know he had his years in Detroit, and I don’t know if you remember Frans Nielsen around here, but we always used to joke that they were carbon copies of each other,” Isles forward Matt Martin said after Monday’s 4-0 win over San Jose in Brooklyn. “Obviously, I think this team missed Franzy a lot over the last few years, and you get a guy like Fil, he’s just got a ton of experience, got a good brain for the game.”
Filppula, inked to a one-year deal worth $2.75 million on July 1, has posted as many as 25 goals (2013-14 with Tampa Bay) and 66 points (2011-12 with Detroit) in one season during a 14-year NHL career.
The 34-year-old Finn is off to a surprising offensive start, with two goals and one assist in the Islanders’ 2-1-0 start entering a four-game road trip beginning Saturday in Nashville.
Still, Filppula was imported by new GM Lou Lamoriello as a character player and for a checking role on the back two lines, as well as to help improve a penalty-kill unit that ranked last in the NHL last season at just 73.2 percent. (The Isles are 8-for-8, by the way, on the kill through three games).
“His most important contribution to the team I think is experience,” new Isles coach Barry Trotz said of Filppula. “He’s played in almost every role … He’s a good pro. And I think guys see how efficient he is. He’s not running around aimlessly. He’s got a good stick. He knows what’s going on. Those type of things are noticed by guys.”
The fan-favorite Martin had left the Islanders via free agency in July of 2016, the same summer Nielsen bolted for Detroit and Kyle Okposo landed in Buffalo. Martin signed a four-year, $10 million contract with Toronto before Lamoriello reacquired him for a second stint with the Isles in July. He scored his first goal this season on Monday on a setup in front from Filppula, who’d stolen the puck from former Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson.
“I think a lot of people won’t notice it, but the way he took the puck off Karlsson to feed me, not a lot of guys do that,” Martin said. “Special player, special brain for the game that you can’t teach it. He’s very savvy. Good two-way player. We’re very fortunate to have him here. He’s been a big part in the three games of the success we’ve had.”
Filppula, who mostly has played alongside fellow newcomer Leo Komarov and either Tanner Fritz or Tom Kuhnhackl, logged 15:08 of ice time on Monday, including 4:01 while the Isles were shorthanded. He also scored in each of the team’s first two games after totaling just 11 goals in 81 games with poor analytics numbers last season for Philadelphia.
“To be honest, when the team does well, that’s the main thing,” Filppula said. “Obviously you want to do as much as you can personally, but that’s a secondary thing. Always when your team does well, everyone looks better and that’s the main focus…But it’s always nice when we get a few opportunities and hope for some goals, as well.”