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Stone a rock-solid player

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 3/12/2017 (858 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES
Ottawa Senators right wing Mark Stone reacts after scoring on Philadelphia Flyers goalie Michal Neuvirth during second period NHL action Thursday October 26, 2017 in Ottawa.

THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES Ottawa Senators right wing Mark Stone reacts after scoring on Philadelphia Flyers goalie Michal Neuvirth during second period NHL action Thursday October 26, 2017 in Ottawa.

Mark Stone is almost everything a coach could want in a player: dependable, hard-working and he has elite-level skills.

Ask Ottawa bench boss Guy Boucher about his star forward and you'll get a lengthy testimonial about the 25-year-old left-winger's value to the Senators.

"It's less about trying to find somebody for him," said Boucher before the Sens game against the Jets at Bell MTS Place Sunday night (6 p.m., Sportsnet, TSN 1290). "It's the opposite. Everybody we put with him will work but I only have one Stone. So, I wish I had three, four or five (of him)."

Entering Sunday's game, Stone's average ice time of 21:08 per game was seventh-highest among NHL forwards. His 14 goals, meanwhile, were tied for fifth overall and his 25 points were 28th.

However, the Winnipeg product is in the final year of a three-year contract that will pay him US$4.5 million (with a cap hit of US$3.5 million) in 2017-18. As a restricted free agent next summer, he appears destined to cash in with a lucrative, long-term deal.

It's heady stuff for the former Brandon Wheat Kings' scoring star who broke into pro hockey after being chosen in the sixth round of the 2010 NHL Draft. From these relatively modest beginnings, a star has blossomed in Ottawa.

He's cracked the 50-point plateau in each of his previous three seasons and is on pace to set a career high for goals and points.

Stone piled up 54 points in 71 games in 2016-17 despite starting the regular season with a concussion and closing it with a serious leg injury. The rehab hampered his return to the lineup during Ottawa's playoff run to the Eastern Conference final. He was restored to full health in the off-season and he's been leading the Sens ever since.

"He came back with vengeance this year, trained extremely hard and what I like is he took the leadership part very, very seriously," said Boucher. "And, to be honest with you, he's the one guy that we have — I don't think we've had one bad practice, I don't think I've had one bad game really, where you could say he didn't show up. It's been very, very impressive and that's where he is now. He's not just a good player, he's great player.

"He's transformed himself into a leader and he does all the small details that are important to the team. He's been leading in all aspects. People look at his offence — I play him everywhere: PK, he can play against the top line. He solidifies any line. We can play any player with him. So he's definitely grown into more than just a really good player."

But like the rest of his teammates, Stone struggled with a goal and three helpers during a recent seven-game losing skid that ended with Friday night's 6-5 win over the New York Islanders.

"We were playing pretty solid hockey, we just couldn't score," said Stone. "We've simplified it and we're starting to disrupt goaltenders, starting to disrupt plays and not doing anything too crazy or too fancy...

"I think at the start of the season as a team we were scoring a lot of goals so I think that came into the personal success when the team was having success. Over the seven games, I don't think anyone was having that much fun."

Against the Islanders, Boucher reunited the 6-3, 206-pound Stone with centre Derick Brassard and right-winger Bobby Ryan and liked what he saw.

"We know Brassard and him have clicked and we knew Bobby with them was unbelievable at the beginning of the year," said Boucher. "What happens is Bobby missed a month and by the time he came back, the (Matt) Duchene trade happens and we were trying all kinds of options."

Stone expects his playing time could go down over time.

"We're trying to get out of slumps right now so sometimes you try to push the envelope a little bit too much and your minutes drag out," said Stone. "I think when our team is playing our best, our four lines are running and everybody's hovering around the 18- to 20-minute mark."

Stone's production has been multi-faceted. He has three power-play markers, two game-winners and one while short-handed.

"When you look at his goals, it's not just the amount, it's when," said Boucher. "A lot of bounce-back goals. The opponent scores a goal that hurts you and then 15 seconds he goes out and gets one. Whether it's power play, penalty kill or five-on-five and overtimes, he's always a threat. He's one of those guys that makes it happen. He's not fazed by the pressure, not fazed by the moment of the game or the opponent doing well."

mike.sawatzky@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @sawa14

Mike Sawatzky

Mike Sawatzky
Sports Reporter

Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.

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