TIM STAPLETON (# 42) â€“ C / RW
Birthdate: July 9, 1982
Hometown: La Grange, Illinois
Size: 5’9, 182 lbs (team listing)
Acquired: Signed as free agent (June 6, 2008)
Cap hit: N/A (plays in AHL); $725,000 if recalled to NHL
Signed through: 2008-09
FA status: RFA after 2008-09 season
You May Not Know This, But:
One can get by in Finland quite easily, without knowing the language. The only Finnish words Stapleton knows, after two years living in Finland, are the swear words.
He was noticed by the University of Minnesota-Duluth scouts after signing up to play for a U.S. touring team at the urging of his best friend (who, ironically, was cut in favor of Stapleton).
Prior to playing in Europe, Stapleton did have some NHL experience … in the form of a training camp invite to Anaheim.
Stapleton is a player who has uncanny vision in the offensive zone. He has great instincts on the attack, and shows great anticipation for where the puck is going, and where his teammates will be. He is a very good passer, a fine skater, and owns a very accurate wrist shot.
Stapleton is small compared to most North American players in the pro game (I have seen him listed anywhere from 5’7 to 5’9, and 170 – 182 lbs, depending on the source), and he is not a particularly physical player. As a result, he can be overmatched at times by larger forwards, especially in the corners and in front of the net. He will have to develop a nastier edge to his game to avoid getting tagged as a perimeter player. He has not scored nearly as many goals in the North American pros as he did in Europe, largely due to the far more physical nature of the North American game, where players have much less puck control time in the offensive zone.
2002 â€“ 2005
After playing for the renowned Green Bay Gamblers in the USHL (high school), Stapleton received a scholarship to play for the University of Minnesota-Duluth. He fared well, putting up nearly a point per game in all four of his seasons in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA). He finished his collegiate career with 152 points (63 goals, 89 assists) in 162 games.
After going undrafted by the NHL during his collegiate career, Stapleton caught on with the Portland Pirates of the AHL for their playoff run. In 9 regular season games, he earned 5 assists, but went pointless in four playoff games.
2006 â€“ 2008
At a crossroads in his hockey career, Stapleton signed with Jokerit Helsinki of the Finnish SM-Liiga. He quickly returned to his near point-per-game ways, posting 110 points (48 goals and 62 assists) in 111 games over his two seasons in Finland. He also proved to be a playoff performer, netting 27 points (15 goals, 12 assists) in 24 playoff games over the two seasons.
2008 – 2009
In the summer of 2008, Stapleton accepted a one year, two-way deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Although he did not make the NHL club out of training camp, he has certainly not disappointed with the Marlies. As of January 4, 2009, Stapleton had recorded 33 points (6 goals, 27 assists) in 36 games.
From The Grapevine:
Marlie fans love this guy. He is known to to be an exciting player when he finds the open spaces, and has made some passes that I was told â€œhad to be seen to be believedâ€. The only concern I’ve heard about him is whether or not he can withstand going against larger, rougher opponents on a nightly basis. The phrase â€œuh-oh, perimeter playerâ€ has been uttered more than a few times by my grit-loving pals, in reference to Stapleton’s non-physical style of play. The comparisons I’ve heard most often are Kyle Wellwood and Robbie Schremp … with the notable exception that Stapleton’s work ethic has rarely (if ever) been called into question.
Notable Quotables: Cliff Fletcher
On Stapleton’s overall game …
“He has to adjust to the North American style of game, which is a strange thing to say, since he is from here. But he has speed and skill, and he may be one of those guys we call up during the year.”
Notable Quotables: Tim Stapleton
On the decision to play in Europe …
â€œI was just kind of sitting on the couch at home and my agent calls and says, ‘You want to go to Finland?’ I said: ‘Sure.’ I didn’t know what to expect. But then you get there, and you get so much out of it. How many times in your life are you going to get to go to Europe, and I got to live there for two years.”
â€œMy dream, my goal was to play here (in the NHL). A lot of players go to Europe and come back here (to the NHL) and I was trying to do the same. Fortunately, it worked out with the Leafs and hopefully I can stick.”
On the differences between the SM-Liiga and the AHL …
â€œThereâ€™s a lot less time here, and players are bigger and physical. But when youâ€™re playing with [ex-NHLers] and some of these other players, itâ€™s pretty easy to play. They help you out a lot.â€
On living in Finland …
“The Finns tend to start off shy, but 95% of them know English. And Helsinki is very safe. I lived right downtown. You’d drive down the main street and see a five-year-old kid waiting, alone, for the bus. In two years, I never saw a bar fight — and the Finns like to drink.â€
LeafsTV interview with Tim Stapleton, during training camp in 2008.
In My Humble Opinion:
Given that Stapleton is 26 years of age, with no NHL game experience, it is difficult to have high expectations for him.Â Â Certainly, he has flown well under the radar, and it is an injustice that he was never drafted.Â Â The scoring numbers have always been there, but the big question remains: can he play with enough jam, and enough of an edge, to be effective against larger, stronger, and rougher NHL defensemen?Â Â That is a question that will not be answered until he is called up to the NHL.Â Â Personally, I don’t see him as a Top-6 forward at the NHL level (he is already 26, so his potential has probably plateaued), although I do think that he could be an effective in short bursts — e.g., as a powerplay specialist and/or injury fill-in.Â Â A career path similar to that of Jeremy “GAG” Williams is a reasonable expectation at this point.Â Â Anything more than that, in terms of NHL production, should be considered a bonus.