Editor’s Note: It’s “Underdog” week at SB Nation, and, here at Canes Country, we’re going to be taking a look back at some of the more memorable underdog players in the team’s history. The Hurricanes have had a number of players who exceeded expectations as a low draft pick, undrafted player, bargain free agent or seemingly minor trade to carve out a role and become a fan favorite. Today, we feature The Secret Weapon.
At this point, anyone at least moderately well-versed in Hurricanes history knows who Niclas Wallin is, especially with Fox Sports Carolinas’ recent reairing of several classic playoff games.
But, when he first came to the franchise? It’s unlikely anyone expected the 97th overall pick of the 2000 NHL Draft to be at the center of so many legendary victories.
Wallin played nine seasons with the Hurricanes, starting with the 2000-01 season (he beat the odds early, making the team as a fourth-round pick) before being shipped to the San Jose Sharks at the trade deadline of the forgettable 2009-10 season. Wallin played one more season for the Sharks before retiring.
The Boden, Sweden native was never known for his offensive prowess with the Hurricanes. In 517 regular season games in Carolina, Wallin posted just 18 goals and 69 points. He was a prototypical gritty, reliable, “shutdown” defenseman. Nagging injuries led to Wallin never playing more than 77 games in a season, but, when on the ice, he was always physical and tough to play against.
Hockey reference does not track hits or blocked shots prior to the 2007-08 season, but in each season after that, Wallin posted at least 99 hits and at least 81 blocks.
And it was his playing style that led to his nickname, and the surprise of his postseason accolades. After all, when facing either the 2002 or 2006 Hurricanes in a sudden death overtime situation, the names to watch out for would have been the likes of Ron Francis, Jeff O’Neill, Rod Brind’Amour, Bates Battaglia, Erik Cole, Eric Staal, Ray Whitney, Cory Stillman, Justin Williams, etc. But Niclas Wallin? A bottom-four, shutdown defenseman? Probably not high on the list of “we have to keep an eye on that guy”.
But Wallin made teams pay, and swung playoff series with critical victories, on three occasions. “The Secret Weapon” has four career playoff goals. All four are game winners, and the three with the Hurricanes are overtime game winners (he scored one in regulation for the Sharks in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs).
The video above is a countdown of the top 15 most exciting playoff moments in Hurricanes history (made well before the 2018-19 season). Three of the moments are Wallin goals.
Wallin’s first career playoff goal is one of the most memorable in franchise history. It’s the capper on the Moulson Miracle, an overtime, series-tying victory in game four of the 2002 Eastern Conference Semifinal against the Montreal Canadiens. Following a third period that saw the Canes pot three goals on Jose Theodore to erase a 3-0 deficit (after the team’s captain may have suggested throwing a rather large kitchen appliance at the MVP goaltender), Wallin picked up a huge victory with a shot from the point in overtime.
In the 2002 Eastern Conference Final against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Wallin again picked up an overtime win, this time with a booming point shot in game two at home, again to even the series.
Wallin’s final Hurricanes playoff goal also finished off a dramatic comeback. After Scott Gomez tallied with 21.1 seconds left to give the New Jersey Devils a 2-1 lead over the Hurricanes in game two of the 2006 Eastern Conference Semis, Eric Staal tied it up with three seconds left.
After the contest headed to overtime, Wallin streaked in on a breakaway against Martin Brodeur, and had the puck roll off his stick, off his skate and through Brodeur for the game winner and 2-0 series lead. It was reviewed for a kicking motion, but upheld.
Wallin did not have any magic goals in the 2009 run to the Eastern Conference Final, but it’s worth noting he was on the ice for Scott Walker’s legendary game seven game winner against the Boston Bruins.
After the 2009 run, Wallin was part of the mass exodus at the 2010 trade deadline, sent to the Sharks along with a fifth rounder for a second-round pick. Wallin played one more season for the Sharks before heading overseas.
Wallin’s career was ended by a concussion in a 2011 European Trophy League game. Wallin detailed the after effects of that injury in an interview with a Swedish newspaper that Canes Country translated in 2018. Fortunately, he ended by saying he’s recovered and leading a good life.
While the end of Wallin’s hockey career is not a happy story, the Carolina Hurricanes chapter is chock full of fond memories. Who would have thought a fourth-round pick, “stay home” defenseman would be featured three times in a montage of top playoff moments?
BONUS: This is the last thing he should be remembered for, but we’d be remiss to not show that Wallin also stood out in one … unfortunate highlight during his Hurricanes career.