Ryan Kesler's wingers are polar opposites. It's like a sitcom on ice.
Early in Sunday's game versus the Calgary Flames, Canucks' winger Mikael Samuelsson turned the puck over in his own zone, allowing Flames' center Michael Backlund to walk in, uncontested, and score the game's first goal. It was painful. For this ill-timed and completely avoidable mistake, Samuelsson was summarily benched, and wouldn't return from fourth-line exile until much, much later in the game.
It was a kneejerk benching, albeit deserved, but it warranted an interesting observation from a few: Mason Raymond, Samuelsson's linemate, has a tendency to make similar mistakes, yet he's rarely benched in such a reactive fashion. Granted, Samuelsson's error was pretty terrible, and most certainly a valid reason to bench a guy, but the observation remains valid. Alain Vigneault does appear quicker to bench Mikael Samuelsson than Mason Raymond. Why?
Because they're very different, and one has an abundance of the selfsame confidence the other lacks.
Mason Raymond is a young prospect. He's still learning and developing both his skillset and his mental fortitude. He's open to coaching, introspective to a fault, and still emotionally shakeable. And, like a lot of young players, he has a tendency to lose confidence when things aren't going his way. In many cases, the worst thing for him is to get stapled to the benched, as he gets down on himself, and winds up holding his stick too tight and trying to overcompensate. If he gets himself stuck in a rut, it's better to let him play through his issues than to feed them. We've seen this all year. He's had a spotty season, but Alain Vigneault has exercised a lot of patience with Raymond, knowing that, often, a benching would merely exacerbate his struggles.
Mikael Samuelsson, on the other hand, is an aged veteran. He's not as teachable, and he's not nearly as emotional. He's an even-keeled player, and he's got the mental fortitude to take a benching without taking a hit to his confidence. He's also downright robotic at times, but he can drift too far down that path, often forgetting to invest emotion into his play. Thankfully, Samuelsson's got temper issues. What to do if you catch him drifting to sleep? Offend him. His reaction to a personal slight is to thumb his nose at the perpetrator, then go out to prove him wrong.
Here's Mikael Samuelsson, from an article by Brad Zeimer, on using his snub from the Swedish olympic team last year as motivation:
"It's not only a coincidence," Samuelsson said Tuesday, acknowledging for the first time that he has been motivated by the Swedish snub. "I was pissed and I'm still like, not upset, but I said what I think and I still think that. Obviously, I had something to prove, I guess. . . I want to play good hockey and I want to prove to guys that I can."
And here he is, after a benching earlier this month, from an article again by Brad Zeimer, (who apparently works nights as Samuelsson's psychologist):
"I don't want to say anything, but I got pissed off, for sure," said Samuelsson, who was dropped down to skate with Maxim Lapierre and Tanner Glass, while Jeff Tambellini was moved up to skate with Mason Raymond and Ryan Kesler on Vancouver's second line.
You'd think Samuelsson was quoting himself.
In that same article, Alain Vigneault admits that the decision to demote Samuelsson came after the Swedish forward took a couple shifts off. Effectively, Sammy was benched to wake him up, a strategy that simply wouldn't work for Mason Raymond, whose confidence would be damaged by the same tactic.
"It was a simple decision of reading your team," Vigneault explained. But it's not so simple. Ittakes a watchful eye and an attention to detail to properly decipher and manage the wide array of personalities in any dressing room, and Vigneault has these guys figured out. As a result, when benched, Mason Raymond powers down, but Mikael Samuelsson gets fired up.