Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Draft Day Prospect Langkow Still a going Concern

By Larry Wigge

Daymond Langkow I will never forget the scene. Draft day, June of 1995. Edmonton, Alberta.

The names that quickly went off the board were Bryan Berard, Wade Redden, Aki Berg and Chad Kilger. Then the Tampa Bay Lightning selected Daymond Langkow and the roof nearly came off the then-Northlands Coliseum for the kid from nearby Vegreville who led the Western Hockey League with 67 goals and 73 assists in 72 games.

"I saw you looking at his bio," Lightning scout Don Murdoch said. "It may say he's 5-foot-10, 170 pounds, but I say this kid is more like Doug Gilmour ... plays like he's 6-2, 220, strong as nails.

"Every time I went to see this kid, two goals, three goals. But it was Daymond's intensity, his guts and grit. Anybody takes a run at him, they're going to eat 18 inches of stick. The kid won't back down. It's in his genes."

But that was the young kid 15 years earlier. One year after he missed nearly a year from the game with a neck injury, he was obtained by the Phoenix Coyotes for right winger Lee Stempniak. It was clear Coyotes coach Dave Tippett wanted a veteran center -- and got his last summer, August 29.

"He recognizes what he has to do on the ice ... and he does it well," Tippett said. "He goes about his business and minds his own business."

Shane Doan had a lot to say about the veteran he faced for so many year.

"I can't say enough good things about him as a man, let alone as a hockey player," Doan said. "The type of personality that he has, the type of person that he is, and the strength that he has, is remarkable. 

"I'm so happy for him that he overcame the neck injury. It could have been career threatening. But, he worked his way back. And that a heck of an attitude."

He missed the final ten games of the 2009-10 season after he was struck in the back of the neck by a slapshot during a game in Minnesota.

The injury resulted in spinal cord damage that kept Langkow out of the lineup for the first 78 games of the last season. Doctor had given him a "50-50" he would ever play another NHL game.

He joined the Flames for full practices later in the 2010-11 season -- and by mid March -- he returned. He suited up for a game against St. Louis on April 1 ... 376 days and 88 games after he suffered the injury.

Langkow wasn't the same player as he had been before. In 73 games, he totaled 11 goals and assisted on 19 others for Phoenix. Maybe he was the same valuable player he started out to be. Good at blocking shots. Good on faceoffs.

There he was still alive going into the Conference Final against Los Angeles. 

Daymond Langkow's dad, Randy, and his uncle, Grant, still can be found mucking and grinding in a senior league in Vegreville, where hard work and no-nonsense are the buzzwords and hockey definitely is a man's game.

Daymond's dad is a plumber by trade and also helps repair air conditioners. His mom, Vivian, who passed away in November, managed a small restaurant in British Columbia. They were living in nearby Edmonton when the middle of their three children was born. The couple divorced when Daymond was 10, but the roots were established. Ask where Daymond is from, and he'll tell you Vegreville.

For the majority of his NHL career, Langkow was seen as a "plumber," a hard-nosed mucker who chipped in offensively, but was better known for checking and penalty-killing duties.

But during a two-year period late in his career with Calgary, Langkow scored 33 and 30 goals. In 2006-07, Langkow had his best offensive season, posting career highs in goals (33), assists (44) and points (77), while going plus-23 for the Flames.

"Nothing’s going to change the way ‘Lanks’ always works hard and goes into the corners and battles, but ..."

Flames captain Jarome Iginla got a big smile on his face as he paused to think about the clever Kristian Huselius before he added, "Before I think the Flames' mentality was being a straight up-and-down-the-wings team, but Kristian helped add a new dimension of creativity to go with the hard-to-play mentality we developed under Darryl Sutter when we went to the Stanley Cup Final in 2004.

"Now, instead of dumping the puck in the corners and barging in after it, we're a more diverse, more creative team. We'll criss-cross at the blue line and carry the puck into the opponent's zone. Try to do some of the things that make a big guy like Joe Thornton so effective, so deceptive; while still being strong on the puck and putting other teams on their heels."

It’s not an old dog learning new tricks for Langkow, has spent 2 1/2 seasons with Tampa Bay, another 2 1/2 with Philadelphia, three seasons with Phoenix and then the Flames before the Stempniak trade which sent him back to the Coyotes.

During his career, Langkow, already was a hard-to-move forward with quick hands. Now is becoming more of a net presence. He's dynamite in front of the goal, tipping in pucks, picking up rebounds or finishing off neat setups.

"Confidence is the biggest thing," Langkow said. "But it also helps when you're out there playing along with guys like 'Juice' (Huselius) and 'Iggy' (Iginla) or 'Tangs' (Alex Tanguay), who are so unselfish. Chemistry is a big part of that confidence."

And what about Murdoch’s "18 inches of stick" scouting report?

"I thought I had a pretty good rookie season, but it was kind of all downhill from there," Langkow recalled of his 15-goal, 13-assist 1996-97 campaign in Tampa Bay. "It's not that I didn't want to score more goals, but my role just seemed to change."

And his journey through the NHL began. He was 35 years of age when he went back to Phoenix.
But Langkow’s defensive play dramatically improved to the point where he was wanted for attributes besides a scoring touch.

"I don’t feel like a different player," Langkow said. "I still go out there night after night to compete. I always thought I could score a few more goals, but ..."

The quiet center's thoughts stream off into the stratosphere someplace as he contributed no goals and three assists in the first round of the playoffs against Chicago and had no goals and two assists -- including the game-winner by Martin Hanzal in Game 5 against Nashville.

Funny, but there were those in that Daymond Langkow fan club at the draft in Edmonton in 1995 who talked about this guy who used to walk the halls of his school and immediately attract the attention of the school bully. Fights and gaining respect were the major part of his resume off the ice.

"Don't believe everything you hear," Langkow said. "Stories tend to grow over the years."

One story that has changed through the years is Daymond Langkow’s place in that 1995 Entry Draft behind Berard, Redden, Berg and Kilger. The long and short of it is that Langkow clearly is the warrior, the best all-round player of that group.

Obstacles like the neck injury might have slowed him down, but they could not stop him.

Just call Daymond Langkow, the neutralizer. He blocks shots and wins faceoffs for the Coyotes ... and he's very valuable at it.

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