Justin Williams rightfully earned the nickname “Mr. Game 7,” yet his overtime game-winner to open the 2014 Stanley Cup Final is just the latest argument for why he means much more than that to the Los Angeles Kings.
“I’ve said this many times. Justin is the most underrated player on our team by a mile,” Drew Doughty said after Game 1 on Wednesday. “He doesn’t get enough credit for what he does.”
“There are two guys on this team that I want to give the puck to, and that’s him and Kopy. When they have the puck, plays happen.”
A lot has been happening for Williams lately. The 32-year-old generated four goals and nine assists for 13 points in his last 11 postseason games. He has 20 points in 22 playoff games overall in 2014. It’s clear that he’s shining in every game as of late, not just the most important ones.
Over being underrated
The thing is, Williams isn’t just underrated; he’s one of those guys who continues to be underrated even after years of being considered underrated.
As Dustin Brown explained to the Los Angeles Times in 2012, Anze Kopitar draws a lot of the scoring attention and there’s the kind of heat Brown draws:
“And maybe I draw some attention,” Brown said. “Maybe not a threat-to-score standpoint. But I want-to-kill-you standpoint.”
Brown believes that Williams prefers to fly under the radar a bit. That’s a good thing because it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle on Kings team that employs Brown, Doughty, Kopitar and Jonathan Quick. Then again, a search of “Justin Williams underrated” spits out message board threads discussing how unappreciated he was with the Carolina Hurricanes back in 2007, so maybe it’s just a way of life for Williams.
Dominant in subtler ways
Along with having some bad injury luck over the years, Williams might also go unnoticed because he hasn’t generated huge regular season numbers. He’s far-removed from back-to-back 30+ goal seasons with Carolina in 2005-06 and 06-07, yet Darryl Sutter explained what makes Williams such a sneaky-dominant player when he isn’t scoring huge goals.
“He hangs onto the puck, goes to traffic, hangs onto the puck, makes the plays,” Sutter said in May. “Takes a beating to make plays. He’s a role model for young players, for sure.”
“That’s the big thing now is the stat, the possession stat, that guys talk about. Justin is for sure one of the top guys in the league.”
Indeed, Williams’ possession numbers are eye-popping. In fact, he’s been so dominant that some believe that he benefits linemate Kopitar more than the other way around.
Does Williams drive play more than Kopitar? That’s up to debate, but the fact that you could make an argument for Williams begs the question of where he might rank among the league’s elite:
The Kings have Williams locked up through next season at a bargain cap hit of $3.65 million, so GM Dean Lombardi likely hopes that the versatile forward remains “underrated” (and underpaid) for a little while longer.