Last night’s game between the Flyers and Lightning marked the return of Simon Gagne to Philadelphia, his NHL home for the first 10 years of his career. Gagne was an integral piece to the Flyers’ Cup run last year and left the team 10<sup>th</sup> all-time on the Flyers’ career scoring list. This town loved him and deservedly so.
However, it was a different ex-Flyer that played a key role in Tampa Bay’s victory last night, Steve Downie.
Downie began his career on the wrong foot. His disturbing hit on Dean McAmmond garnered a long suspension and a terrible black mark on his reputation. He was always touted as a physical player that played in the gray areas, but now he was viewed as a reckless player that had no regard for player safety on the ice.
His rookie year was moderately successful after the suspension as he finished with 6 goals and 6 assists in 32 regular season games and played competently in the Flyers run to the conference finals that season. The next year, he started the season in Philadelphia but found himself shipped out to Tampa Bay, where he was demoted to their AHL affiliate in Norfolk. His numbers down there, 8 goals 25 assists in only 23 games, suggested he was too good to be in the minors.
Last year, he came to camp ready to work with Lightning head coach Rick Tocchet. He began the season slowly but, with the guidance of Tocchet, seemed to find more control in his game. He found chemistry with second year star Steve Stamkos and exploded offensively right before the Olympic break with 11 goals and 9 assists in the last 27 games. Over a full season, those numbers would equate to a 33 goal 27 assist season.
With 2 assists last night, he now has 1 goal 3 assists in the first three games this season. The similarities between Downie’s stats and Tocchet’s early career statistics are eerily similar. With the right progression and continued chemistry with Stamkos, Steve Downie could develop into a premier power forward in the NHL very soon.