Of all the complaints about the Buffalo Sabres roster over the past few seasons, the loudest and most frequent was, "This team has no heart!" Around the NHL, it's tough to find a player that personifies heart more than Steve Ott. He brings with him all of the qualities that fans didn't see in the recently departed Derek Roy, those intangible qualities that are so difficult to measure and define.
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While Ott's stat line may be underwhelming to some, he wasn't brought in because of his goal scoring prowess, though he has scored 22 goals as recently as 2010. What a player like Ott brings to his team are things not easily measured on the stat sheet.
How do you assess the tenacity of a guy so committed to getting inside his opponent's heads that he learned new insults in different languages for each foreign team that Canada faced in his junior tournaments? How do you quantify how big of a fan favorite Ott has been in Dallas thanks to both his kamikaze style of play and approachability and personality off the ice? I'm not sure, but what I do know is that Ott - to go along with younger players like Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno - brings with him certain traits that the Buffalo Sabres have been sorely lacking over the past few seasons.
To get a more informed opinion regarding Ott, I posed a few questions to Brandon Worley, the managing editor of SB Nation's Stars blog, Defending Big D, and he was gracious enough to answer them and offer some opinions of his own after the break.
1. We've seen the stats and fight videos, but for Buffalo fans that have never seen him play, is Ott really that much of a force on the ice in terms of toughness?
Ott, for his size (6-0, 190) is an incredibly physical forechecker who seemingly goes out of his way sometimes just to make that big hit. When the rest of the team is dogging it, he's going to be the one to take the ice with the sole purpose of lighting a spark with big hits and raucous, agitating play. There were games where, in the course of one shift, he target all five of the opposing players and managed to piss each of them off individually.
What you'll immediately notice, and this is something Stars fans have been defending for years, is that he is not as quick to drop the gloves as it may seem he is. He understands that his job is put the other team at a disadvantage and he does that by goading them into penalties or retaliation. He's also going to be one of your top faceoff guys and penalty killers -- if he's taking himself off for five minutes, he's not helping his team. He likes to pick his spots with fights.
What we've also seen is that his physical nature also means he "toes the line" and there are times when he'll cross it. But it's also aggravating to see him target by officials because of his reputation, a reputation that is nowhere near close to reality.2. What's his offensive upside? Can he play on the second line or is he better suited for the third line?
Steve Ott's ideal role at this point is a checking line, third line center/wing. He's capable of playing wing and taking faceoffs, but he's also a very defensively-responsible center who can move the puck up the ice and create offense going the other way.
He was snake bitten a bit last year when it came to goal-scoring, and he'll surprise you with a wicked slapshot and his quick release. His most underrated ability, however, is his passing and vision with the puck. He'll make passes and plays that you'd never expect to see from an "agitator" like Ott.
Last season he struggled a bit in top-six minutes, so it's become clear that his best asset is as a checking line, gritty center -- something the Sabres were certainly in desperate need of.
3. Does he play any center, or is strictly a faceoff-taking winger?
As I stated above, he can play both roles suitable well. He mainly played at wing with the Stars, but there were times when he would play center for stretches during the season due to depth and injury issues.
I want to add a bit here, some personal thoughts on Steve Ott....
He's going to be one of the fans' favorite players on the team, instantly. He's one of the best personalities in the NHL and despite his on-ice demeanor, he's one of the absolute nicest and approachable guys when he's away from hockey.
He always received the biggest roar by the fans here in Dallas and it's going to be very tough to see him play elsewhere.
A few years ago, when the Stars were going through some very tough times as a team, he was the only player on that bench willing to show heart and grit and tenacity in the middle of a tough game in a failed season. The rest of the team refused to back him up, but he decided he was still going to take on the entire Ducks roster -- on the ice or on the bench. This is the game where he supposedly poked a Ducks player in the eye, but what is failed to be mentioned is that he was sucker punched and attacked from behind -- while the rest of his team stood idly by.
He's always going to give it his all and he plays with his heart on his sleeve. You guys received a very good player, but an even better person.
We'll miss ya in Dallas, Steve.