By Larry Wigge
Jarret Stoll used to occupy one of the positions on the top two line for the Edmonton Oilers and Los Angeles Kings. He was effective and productive. Terrific shot. Always a very dangerous player ... one who used on the point of the power play.
His biggest output came in 2005-06, when he scored 22 goals and 46 assists and scored another four goals and six assists in the playoffs as the Edmonton Oilers made it all the ways to the Stanley Cup finals.
But on June 23 things changed, when the Kings obtained center Mike Richards -- all-star from the Philadelphia Flyers and Stoll was demoted to third or fourth-line center behind Anze Kopitar and Richards.
The demotion didn't agree with Jarret Stoll.
Somehow he fell into disfavor with Los Angeles coach Terry Murray. Stoll was moved around and the Kings experimented to boost their anemic offense. He didn't really climb in to his role as a two-way center. Being strapped with different linemates and his scoring dropped from 20 goals last season to six goals and 15 assists -- his poorest season ever in eight season with Edmonton and Los Angeles.
But fast-forward 11 months and Jarret has never played better hockey in his career. When Darryl Sutter replaced Murray as coach in late December, Stoll began to gather more and more ice time. More important minutes, from Sutter, formerly the Calgary Flames GM, remembering Stoll from his prominent days with the Oilers and Kings.
Late in the season, he started to play more third line duty with Trevor Lewise and rookie Dwight King, after King and Jordan Nolan were recalled from Manchester of the American Hockey League on February 11.
And what a line it has become for the Kings in the playoffs ... producing as much as the Kopitar and Richards lines.
Stoll turned in one of the finest playoff performances Thursday night in a 2-1 victory against the Phoenix Coyotes that gave Los Angeles a 3-0 series lead in the Western Conference Finals. The highlight was his steal from defenseman Michael Stone that led to Dwight King's game-winning goal early in the third period.
"When he's slotted right where he is, he's awesome," Sutter explained. But ...
Sutter wanted to finish the thought, but he was at a loss for superlatives.
"He had a strong powerful game tonight," continued Sutter. "I thought he was outstanding."
"Everybody's got to play well to win," Stoll explained. "It doesn't matter where you are in the lineup. Whether you're playing five to six minutes a night or 18 to 19 minutes a night -- it doesn't really matter. As long as you're playing your role and contributing and doing the things you do well for the team. Right now we've got everybody on that same page."
Fewer minutes and fewer points, a more defensive role.
"He's an awesome two-way center," teammate Matt Greene said, who came to Los Angeles with Stoll in a June 29, 2008 trade for defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky. "I've had the pleasure of playing with him for a long time now. And he's a stud. I think he does a lot of things he doesn't get credit for."
Captain Dustin Brown added, "Stoll really stood out to me with his jump -- he jumped by two guys, drawing a penalty on one. He had opportunities left and right. Again, that's part of the reason we're a successful team right now is we have everyone going. On different nights, we have different players elevate their games."
Stoll's veteran savvy has been a key role in King's scoring goals in three straight games ... and five in the last five games.
It didn't start out that way for Stoll.
Settling into a defensive role was never Jarret Stoll's intent. He wanted more when he made the step up from the Western Hockey League Stoll had a strong junior career with the Kootenay Ice and put himself in good position for the Entry Draft by scoring 40 goals and adding 66 assists in 2000-01.
The 6-1, 201-pound had a great foundation, growing up in and around Melville, Saskatchewan. His dad was a good all-around athlete and became a local sports coach. Tim Stoll is a big, rugged defenseman who played with childhood friend, Brian Propp, on the Melville Millionaires, a top Saskatchewan youth-hockey organization.
"They were teammates on the Melvin Millionaires and they played ball together. They pretty much grew up together," Stoll said. "Yeah, Dad is bigger than me. He was always my coach until Midgets. He was definitely a hard coach. Dad was one of those guys who didn't take too much lip out there, he worked you hard and he was a very disciplined guy, a really driven guy. I learned a lot that way. He helped me a lot to get where I am today. We had fun and we had great teams. When you dad is your coach, you want to do well for him. That's just the way it was."
Stoll wasn't even supposed to be an Oiler, let alone an impact player. Jarret was selected in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, second round, 46th overall. The Flames elected to ship him to Toronto for a draft pick. But that paperwork wasn't completed in time, nixing the deal. Stoll re-entered the 2002 and the Oilers made him a second-round selection, 36th overall.
To win a championship, you need players who sacrifice. Jarret Stoll, who once was a 40-goal scorer in junior, had a career-high 68 points with the Oilers in 2005-06 and he's capable of being a No. 2 center in this league, no question. But he also wants to win.
He didn't complain one bit when Richards was brought in. He saw the bigger picture. He knew he still had an important place on this team.
"It's two months of hard work, but it could be the best two months of your life," Stoll said, showing he wants to win. "We went right to the end in 2006 and lost ..."
Stoll, trying to complete a thought said, "But we definitely learned a lot from that experience of how hard it is to get there and just that little extra that you have to push yourself. Maybe you don't think it's there some nights, but you keep pushing and pushing and hopefully it'll work out."