When Antoine Vermette was acquired in a deadline deal with the Ottawa Senators, most assumed it was only a matter of time before he got a real shot on the top line with Rick Nash.
It appears he'll get that shot in Game 3 tomorrow night against the Red Wings. Puck-rakers reports he took the ice for practice today skating between right winger Rick Nash and left winger Kristian Huselius. Assuming there are no more changes between now and game time tomorrow, which is a big assumption, Vermette will quickly have to prove his worth. Head Coach Ken Hitchcock has not been shy about changing up line combinations in the final weeks of the regular season and so far during the playoffs.
Many feel Vermette has yet to truly break out because when he was with Ottawa, he was stuck behind All-Stars like Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza, and Daniel Alfredsson. Much of his time was spent playing on the third line as a winger.
Vermette has said since day 1 in Columbus that he prefers the center position, and it shows.
His impact in Columbus was immediate. He had 7 goals in 17 games after scoring just 9 goals in his 62 games with Ottawa. He finished the regular season with 7 goals, 6 assists, and 13 points in 17 games with the Blue Jackets. His +/- was much improved at +5 with the Blue Jackets after being -12 with the Senators. He found immediate chemistry with RJ Umberger and was scoring in all situations -- he had at least one goal at even strength, on the powerplay, and shorthanded, as well as a game-winning goal in overtime.
His biggest impact is in the face-off circle. Vermette finished the season 6th in the NHL in face-off percentage. Columbus was already home to another top face-off man in Manny Malhotra, who finished 4th in the NHL. It's been tough for him to have success in the face-off circle against the likes of Datysuk and Filppula so far in this series.
The entire team cooled off down the stretch, winning only 3 of its last 10 games, much like Detroit. It's not only on Vermette's shoulders to have a strong game 3, but hopefully he will provide a spark and create space for Nash.
Can Antoine Vermette be a hero?