The Redemption Of Scottie Upshall

Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Admit it, you thought Scottie Upshall's best days of NHL productivity were behind him. This season, he's come on strong, and taken his rightful place in Florida's top six.

Ecstatic to be joining the Florida Panthers Organization!! Awesome day... Truly a dream come true.

...thus tweeted new Florida Panther Scottie Upshall on July 1st, 2011.

Scottie Upshall signed a free agent contract to play with the Panthers during the 2011 offseason for four years and $14,000,000. Expected to pay immediate dividends, he instead spent the bulk of the season on the injured reserve list. Even though the Panthers had a rare great season, going 38-26-18, Upshall was less fortunate. He ended up totaling two goals on 53 shots, with three assists in a paltry 26 games. He did come back for the playoff series with the New Jersey Devils, where he played all seven games and contributed a goal (see below) with two helpers.

Scottie Upshall goal. NJ Devils vs Florida Panthers 4/21/12 NHL Hockey (via Fred Murtz)

After the lockout ended last season, Upshall rejoined the Cats, where he played 27 out of a possible 48 games and put up four markers on 54 shots with a single helper. It seemed the writing was on the wall for Florida. Another bad deal for a franchise whose history is replete with questionable management decisions.

But forget about all that - Upshall seems to have put all of his injury problems behind him. The 6', 200 lb. product of Fort McMurray, Alberta has put his game together for Florida. He now wears the "A" on his sweater, as one of the Panther's alternate captains. He ranks third on the team amongst forwards with 15:57 average time on ice, leading the Panthers with 18 points (in only 31 games). He has scored his six goals on 57 shots with 12 assists. His plus-2 rating is one of only four positive figures on the active roster.

Upshall got his start in the Alberta Junior Hockey League in 1999-00 with the Fort McMurray Oil Barons at the age of 16. He scored a point per game over 52 contests, with 26 goals and 26 assists. He helped them eventually win the championship, with two goals and four assists in five games in the Royal Bank Cup tournament. The following season, he joined the Kamloops Blazers in the WHL, where he ended up with 74 goals and 96 assists over 131 games in the next two seasons. The NHL took notice, and Upshall found himself drafted by the Nashville Predators in the first round, sixth overall in the 2002 Entry Draft. Upshall recently reflected on his days with the Blazers, per theprovince.com:

There’s always been good people around the Blazers. That’s always something to look back on. You’re always welcome to go back to Kamloops. I miss those days. Those were fun days.

From 2002-03 through the lockout that forced the cancellation of the 2004-05 season, Upshall played a grand total of 15 games with the Preds, scoring a goal, an assist, and finishing with an even rating. He spent most of his first five professional seasons in the AHL with the Milwaukee Admirals, where he totaled 50 goals and 55 helpers in 123 games. He did make a dent at the NHL level with Nashville in 2005-06, scoring eight times with 16 helpers in 48 games. After 14 games with the Predators in 2006-07 (two goals, one assist), he was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers with defenseman Ryan Parent and two draft picks (defenseman Jonathon Blum and center Philip DeSimone) for left-handed center Peter Forsberg. Forsberg scored 15 points in 17 Nashville matches, while Upshall played most of the next three seasons with Philly.

Scottie Upshall hat trick 1/21/10 (via NHL)

Over 134 games with the Flyers, Upshall scored 27 times and added 37 helpers. On March 4th, 2009, Philadelphia sent him along with a second round pick to the Phoenix Coyotes for left winger Daniel Carcillo. The Coyotes would see Upshall at his best (outside of his somewhat frequent stints on the IR) with 42 markers and 30 assists in 129 games. Midway through the 2010-11 season, he was traded for the third time in his career, with Sami Lepisto to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Rostislav Klesla and Dane Byers. After finishing the season for the Jackets with six goals and an assist in 21 contests, he hit free agency, where the Panthers made him one of several key signings on July 2nd.

So, a once big-time prospect is written off, only to reemerge as Florida's high-energy spark-plug and leading scorer. Funny, it's just what we were hoping for when he was signed. Going forward, Upshall is signed through the end of next season. If his current productivity is what the Panthers expect from him going forward, they'd be wise to explore a longer-term deal to keep him on. In the meantime, Florida has won five of six and three straight for the first time this season. In the watered-down Eastern Conference, the Cats have a real chance to get back into the playoff race. Eighth place is eight points ahead, in the guise of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Coincidentally, Florida's next opponent. If Florida gets back into the picture, it will be due in no small part to the future contributions of Upshall.

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