SAN JOSE, Calif. – It’s hard to keep secrets in the National Hockey League, but when you score 30 goals in a Pacific outpost on a team with a bunch of players more famous than you are, there will still be people who don’t know your name.
“Us guys in here that have gotten to see him over the last couple of years, he’s exactly that – a beast,” San Jose defenceman Brenden Dillon said after Meier’s beastly performance in Saturday’s 6-3 playoff win against the Blues. “He’s a powerful guy and a skilled guy as well that almost flies under the radar being here. We have so many quality players, you almost look at him like a depth forward. But he can be such a difference-maker. Sometimes I don’t think he even knows how strong he is. We get to see it in practice.”
“Yeah, he practises the same way he plays,” Sharks winger Kevin Labanc said. “It’s an everyday thing. Once he’s going, he’s going and it’s hard to stop him. He’s such a big body. He’s a man.”
Actually, Meier is only 22-years-old and this is just his second full season in the NHL. So, really, the power forward is still a growing boy in hockey. A 210-pound growing boy who possesses strength and a nasty streak to augment all that speed and skill that made the Swiss winger a ninth-overall draft pick in 2015.
His 30 goals and 66 points this season left Meier only fourth in Sharks’ scoring, behind Brent Burns, Tomas Hertl and Logan Couture, and just ahead of Joe Pavelski.
Start naming Sharks off the top of your head and Meier is going to be a lot lower than fourth. Think about it: Joe Thornton, Erik Karlsson, Evander Kane, Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
Meier, however, has been impossible to miss in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
He had two goals and an assist as the Sharks dumped the Blues 6-3 to take a 1-0 lead in the Western Conference Final.
For his assist on Couture’s opening goal just 3:31 into the game, Meier ran over six-foot-three St. Louis captain Alex Pietrangelo to create a turnover and launch a two-on-one for Couture and Gustav Nyquist.
On his first goal, which made it 4-2 for San Jose at 10:24 of the second period and came just 86 seconds after Ryan O’Reilly brought St. Louis within one, Meier collected the puck after helping Couture force a turnover from Colton Parayko, sifted through defenceman Jay Bouwmeester and badly fooled Blues goalie Jordan Binnington with a move that looked a little like Peter Forsberg’s famous one-handed deke except Meier had two hands on his stick.
One play was pure power, the other pure skill. Both involved speed.
“I thought Timo was great tonight,” Couture said. “He was a bull. When he skates and with his strength, he’s tough to defend. We’re fortunate enough to play with him on our line, and I thought he was really, really good.”
Meier had seven shot attempts, five hits and three points, the last coming on a bank shot off St. Louis defenceman Vince Dunn that made it 5-2 at 17:34 of the second period.
Two seasons ago, Meier split time between the NHL and American Hockey League. Last year, he scored 21 times. This season, Meier nearly doubled his points.
“He’s a great player, for one,” San Jose coach Peter DeBoer said of Meier’s development. “I think power forwards take a little bit longer, especially physical guys and the way he plays. I think those guys take a little longer to have success at the NHL level, learning how to use that physicality and still use their skill. Now he’s arrived and he’s the real deal.”
Meier has 13 points in 15 playoff games and appears to be getting better with each series. He is tied for sixth in playoff scoring, and his 57 hits are tied for third.
Meier, Couture and Nyquist frequently play against the opposition’s top line. Meier has started only 44.2 per cent of his playoff shifts in the offensive zone, yet is second on the Sharks with a 55.1 shots-for percentage.
The Sharks generated 65.4 per cent of shot attempts when Meier was on the ice Saturday.
Beast or bull or both, he is no longer a secret. Meier is becoming one of the biggest players on the NHL’s biggest stage.
“The biggest thing I enjoy is the team — having success with the team,” Meier said. “That’s what it’s all about. We have so many great guys on this team, so many players that are just unbelievable hockey players. For me, it’s about learning from players like Logan. And everybody on this team is a great leader. It’s fun to be able to play at this time of the year, and obviously have success. That’s what I’m playing for, to win a Stanley Cup.”
“I think he’s just starting to come into his own,” Dillon said. “Timo can take over a game. We’ve seen it all season.”
Everyone else is seeing it now, too.