Scottie Upshall came into this NHL season with a reputation of being a highly desirable role player, a speedy forward who added energy and spunk to his team's lineup. He played that role in Nashville and Philadelphia before being traded to Phoenix in the Dan Carcillo deal last season. But 47 games into the season, Upshall is the Coyotes' leading scorer with 17 goals. Sixteen goals have come at even strength and he has four game-winners. He talked to USA TODAY's Kevin Allen about why he's scoring more frequently.
Question: Are you an energy guy who is now scoring goals or do you see yourself as a goal scorer?
Upshall: Throughout the course of my year, there have been times when I've been looked upon to score goals and other times to be an energy guy, strictly to go out and play good defense and create chances through working hard. I don't think I have changed my game.
Are you scoring more goals because you have more confidence or is your confidence growing
because you are close to being on a pace to net 30 this season?
Upshall: I've gotten a really good opportunity here in Phoenix to play with good players (currently with Shane Doan and Matthew Lombardi). The success we have had throughout our lineup has given me the opportunity to play more offensive. I really think confidence does have a lot to do with it. I think any player who has a high level of confidence is going to be at his best. It's fun to come to the rink here because we have a good bunch of guys and that makes everyone go out and be confident with the puck.
Why do you and Lombardi work so well together?
Upshall: He has been a terrific center for me this season. He creates a lot of speed, and I can fly down the wing and get passes from him. We create a lot off rushes.
You have never had more than 14 goals. Are you shooting more? Or are you finding the seams? Any explanation for the increased scoring?
Upshall: Shooting the puck has been a strength of mine, and I should be a guy who gets four or five shots per game. If you get those opportunities, the puck will go in the net.
With your increased scoring numbers, do you worry that you will put too much emphasis on that area and forget your other attributes?
Upshall: Bad habits are something that you always need to avoid, especially in professional sports. There is a fine line between going out and getting chances and giving up opportunities. This team needs guys to step up and score goals, and you have to pick your spots to take your chances. Now when I step on the ice, I want to score goals. I think it's part of my game. I can really focus on getting stronger and better. If we could get five guys in this room to step up and score 20-25 goals, it would be a step in the right direction. I want to be one of those guys.
Usually when a player is scoring at a higher rate, it usually involves increased power play goals. But you have only one power play goal among your 17. How do you explain those numbers?
Upshall: I've been on the power play in about 70% of the games this season, and when you are out there, you are looked upon to bear down and create opportunities. Although it hasn't come for me on the power play, I've been fortunate to get some bounces at even strength. But if you look at the guys who score a lot of goals —Jarome Iginla, Rick Nash, (Alex) Ovechkin — these guys are big strong guys who find pucks and they shoot the puck well. I try to take a page from their books. To me that means going to the net, and that has given me a lot of scoring opportunities.
You are playing about 15 minutes a game, but are you actually getting more power play time than you have in the past?
Upshall: I have probably gotten more time than anywhere. When I got to Philadelphia, I was fortunate enough to get there when they were moving things around and rebuilding. I was traded in February in the (Peter) Forsberg deal and I had two-and-a-half months there. I think I went there with two goals and finished with eight. (He had 13 points in 18 games.) That brought my confidence up.
What was your reaction when you were traded from Philadelphia to Phoenix?
Upshall: It was the trade deadline, and I didn't get a call until 10 minutes after the deadline. I enjoyed Philly and I can't say enough about the organization and fans. And it was very disappointing at the time. But I got to sleep on it, and I got to Boston the next day and we beat Boston and it made me realize and whatever happened was meant to be. And now that I'm in Phoenix, I've made the best of it. I got here and focused on proving what kind of player I can be.
Did you view coming to Phoenix as giving you a clean slate?
Upshall: Absolutely. The Eastern and Western Conference are almost like two different leagues. There were people who hadn't seen me play in a while and I viewed it like it was a clean page. I wanted to go out and show that we are moving in the right direction as a team and the moves they made are going to help this team.