For every Wojtek Wolski, there is a Lauri Korpikoski.
Thanks in part to the latter, the Coyotes might not have to replace the former.
“He’s earned his confidence,” coach Dave Tippett said Thursday after Phoenix’s 5-1 win over Toronto.
With a goal (and an assist) against the Maple Leafs, the 24-year-old Finnish forward is tied for second on the team in goals (11) with captain Shane Doan and Taylor Pyatt, one behind Scottie Upshall.
The numbers aren’t a total surprise when you consider Korpikoski was the New York Rangers’ first-round draft pick in 2004 — the 19th choice overall. But they are when you consider his role.
“I think every team needs some good utility players, and when you look at Lauri, he’s played almost every position but goal for us,” Tippett said with a chuckle. “I rely on him more from a defensive standpoint than from an offensive standpoint.”
In many ways, Korpikoski is the antithesis to Wolski.
Korpikoski began the year logging many of his minutes on the penalty-killing unit. He has played a fourth-line role and has shifted between right wing, left wing and center.
“He’s one of our unsung heroes,” Doan said.
By contrast, Wolski was a highly skilled, top-six forward who was used to taking risks because there was so much potential reward.
“He just didn’t fit our culture,” general manager Don Maloney said of Wolski, whom he traded this week to the Rangers for defenseman Michal Rozsival. “His game and his style of game wasn’t the way we need to play to be successful.
“In Tipp’s system and with the way we play, you have to be accountable for turnovers and play in your own end.”
Korpikoski provides that. But he has always wanted to be more.
“You want to take that next step,” he said. “You want to be better than just a PK guy or just a fourth-line line guy. You want to do everything well.”
By abiding Tippett’s preachings and remaining responsible in all phases, Korpikoski has done just that.
“Tipp’s pretty good at recognizing that and rewarding guys with ice time,” Doan said.
“He’s a great example of a player working on the defensive side to create his offensive side,” Tippett added. “He probably deserves more power-play time, but we’re trying to get other players going.”
Tippett set a goal of “10-plus” goals for Korpikoski when the season began.
“We’re at 10-plus, so maybe we should re-evaluate,” Tippett said.
Evaluating is exactly what the Coyotes are doing right now. While Wolski and Lee Stempniak haven’t provided as much offense as Maloney had hoped when he re-signed them this summer, Korpikoski, Pyatt and Upshall have been pleasant surprises.
With speedy Mikkel Boedker recalled from the AHL and Brett MacLean likely to get some more looks with the parent club, the Coyotes are testing whether they can survive with the current crop of forwards or need to add another piece before the Feb. 28 trade deadline.
Korpikoski’s second half will have a major impact on that decision.
“It helps that I have more confidence,” he said. “Last year, when I was in and out of lineup, you’re scared of making mistakes, and that’s the wrong way to play the game. Now I know if I make a mistake, there’s still another shift coming.”