When people get to nit-picking the stewardship of Ron Hextall as Flyers general manager, it usually focuses on the players he has acquired, not those he has drafted.
We will know more by season's end whether signing James van Riemsdyk to a five-year, $35 million deal was smart or folly, but for most of the previous two seasons, Dale Weise has been near or at the top of the list of Hextall's indictable offenses.
An elevated spot for a third- or fourth-liner, for sure, especially one who sat out huge chunks of last season and played only sparingly when he did dress. But that was precisely the criticism: Hextall gave a 4-year, $9.4 million contract in the summer of 2016 to a player who quickly suggested that the two previous seasons, when he amassed a total of 56 points, were outliers.
Weise, now 30, had 15 points over 64 games in that first season with the Flyers. Not what they expected but OK. Last season, though, Weise amassed just eight points over 46 games, spending almost as much time in the press box as he did on the Wells Fargo ice, aware of the criticism inside of that box – and outside as well.
"It's easy for people to pick on guys who sit on the fourth line," he was saying at SkateZone Friday as the Flyers prepared for Saturday's matinee against the Chicago Blackhawks. "Especially in the media. Nobody's going to call you on it. … The reality of it is that when you play eight minutes a night, you don't get much of a chance to score offensively. and you really don't have a big impact on the game. So to be calling out those guys as the problem is kind of ridiculous."
There's some truth to this. But Weise's play this season underlines why scrutinizing those guys has merit. He is having big impacts on games this season. His semi-breakaway goal to tie Thursday's game against Arizona was his first goal since last December, but it was his sixth point this season in only his 13th game.
At that pace, he would eclipse his high-water mark of 29 points, set with the Canadiens in 2014-15. Inserted into the lineup shortly after van Riemsdyk suffered a lower-body injury in the second game of the season, Weise has taken this opportunity and run with it, building the trust of the same coach who at times last season seemed exasperated by him.
Here was Dave Hakstol immediately after Thursday's win, in which Weise played 14 minutes, 7 seconds: "He's earned it. He's earned everything. Weiser's season so far started Day 1 of training camp, he had a good day. He's pushed hard and he's very consistent. We're seeing the results. He's a confident player right now and maybe that's part of what was lacking in his game over the past couple of years."
Here was Hakstol Friday, when asked how that confidence came about: "Without getting too in-depth, we know Dale's a good player … and the last two years haven't gone the way anybody planned. So, coming into the summer and coming into this year we all knew there was a heckuva lot more there."
"I say it all the time: It's all about opportunity," said Weise, one of the more popular players in the Flyers dressing room. "When you get an opportunity and the coach believes in you and you've got some confidence, it's a world of difference."
"Right now you're seeing a player who has been given a little bit different opportunity by me, his coach," added Hakstol. "And he, in turn, has come in with a real purpose. Opportunity and preparation are kind of at the crossroads here. And he's taken advantage of the opportunity that he's earned. There's no magic wand to wave there in terms of rediscovering a role on a hockey team. He's carved a good role for us. And he's a versatile player. I believe his versatility is going to be very important to us up and down the lineup throughout the year."
Breakaways: Van Riemsdyk continues to practice with the team. He estimated his return to be about a week away, which would put him on track to make the finale of this five-game homestand against Tampa Bay. Van Riemsdyk suffered that "lower-body injury" after taking a puck to the knee.