Twelve years ago, when right winger Lee Stempniak was about to enter the league as a fifth-round draft pick of the St. Louis Blues, Ulf Andersson of Elite Prospects said of him: "Stempniak is a speedy winger with good all-around ability. Can play in most situations, and has a very good shot. Lacks size, though." After 12 years and 800 games in the NHL, his size doesn't appear to have held Stempniak back.
Canes general manager Ron Francis said the Stempniak acquisition was important for the young club because he "is a veteran, skilled forward who will provide offense for our team, as well as leadership on and off the ice." That leadership piece is hard to nail down, but there are clues that he is having an impact.
Over the years, Stempniak has accumulated a lot of goals and four appearances in the Stanley Cup playoffs for three different teams. He is tough around the net and is an aggressive skater.
The Hurricanes have placed him on their top line along with Victor Rask and Jeff Skinner to start the season, and the move is paying off. Though Carolina is off to a slow start, bouncing between goaltenders, Stempniak and the offense are flying high. He is currently among the team leaders in goals and penalty minutes and leads the team in shooting percentage.
The offense, led by the Stempniak line, has so far carried Carolina. And over the course of his career, that has been a trend. Stempniak has recorded at least a dozen goals in 10 of the past 11 seasons. More importantly, in recent times, he has developed into a very accurate shooter who is great with puck possession.
Over the past three seasons (including 2016-17), Stempniak has recorded a Corsi-for percentage over 50 percent for every team he's been on except New Jersey. For the four other franchises, whenever Stempniak was on the ice, his teams took many more shots than their opponents.
He also is a hitter, despite his size, who is not averse to blocking shots. Not all wingers offer their teams as much as he does.
Outside of the statistics, Stempniak has become a valuable commodity as evidenced by nothing more than his transaction history. For three straight years, a team has acquired him by the trade deadline.
In fact, if the Hurricanes aren't able to pull themselves out of the basement in the Eastern Conference this season or next, Stempniak's name will surely be on the trade block once again. Teams always want moderately priced veterans who know how to work and are able to put the puck in the back of the net.
Despite never becoming an elite player at any of his stops, Stempniak is establishing a solid NHL legacy, no matter where his journeyman career takes him next.