At first glance — or any glance — Alex Edler seems genetically unsuited to be a hit man.
He looks angelic and kind, is gentle, quiet like dew and demonstrates the same violent tendencies as Winnie the Pooh. He dresses like a Beatle and is best known away from the hockey rink for napping.
Edler has never had a fight.
"No," he whispered Friday.
What about in Swedish hockey?
"No, there's no fighting there."
How about at school?
"Not that I can think of."
Not even preschool, squabbling over a Brio Volvo?
"I'm not sure; nothing I can remember."
We've got him. Edler has a brother, Jens. Surely he socked his sibling sometime.
"No, he was six years older than me, so there wasn't much I could do."
Makes you want to slap Edler on the spot. But there's no telling how he might snap. Look what happened to Drew Doughty.
"We're always bugging him: 'You got a heartbeat tonight, Alex? You awake tonight?' " Vancouver Canuck assistant coach Rick Bowness said not long after Edler rocketed to the National Hockey League from the Swedish Third Division. "The personality belies the intensity at which he can play this game."
Halfway though the third period on Thursday, Edler launched his six-foot-three, 220-pound frame into Doughty, the Los Angeles Kings defenceman who had sped past Kevin Bieksa and Pavol Demitra for an apparent scoring chance. The collision was the biggest Los Angeles quake since Northridge.
Doughty and the puck parted.
A period earlier, Edler crushed Ryan Smyth along the boards. And in the first period, the Canuck blue-liner landed only a glancing blow on a hellacious cannonball run at winger Justin Williams. Had Edler connected, it might have ended the night for both players — the Canuck through penalty, the King through injury.
"I don't know what got into him," Bieksa said. "He was his usual calm, fall-asleep personality before the game."
"Eddie was fired up," teammate Shane O'Brien said. "I don't think he has a mean bone in his body. He's pretty laid back, a really good guy. But with mobility like that and size, he can definitely come across and hit guys. They're definitely going to have their head up a little more when he's on the ice now."
If Edler wasn't the best Canuck in Vancouver's playoff-opening 3-2 overtime win Thursday against Los Angeles, then he was the most noticeable after Daniel and Henrik Sedin.
The replacement for injured Willie Mitchell on the Canucks' shutdown pairing alongside Sami Salo, Edler registered six hits and three blocks in 27:10 of ice time and finished plus-one while suffocating first-line Kings Smyth, Williams and Anze Kopitar.
This Stanley Cup tournament is supposed to be another potential showcase for Doughty, who at age 20 is a Norris Trophy candidate, owns an Olympic gold medal and may be the best defenceman in a generation to enter the NHL.
But these weeks could also mark Edler's arrival as the elite, impact defenceman he was projected to become after his meteoric rise from hockey obscurity three years ago. He turns 24 on Wednesday.
Even as Edler failed to record a point, Thursday might have been the best of his 267 games in the NHL.
"Last year was good for me; I got a feel of the playoffs," Edler, who had eight points in 10 playoff games last spring, said after Friday's practice. "Going into this year's playoffs, I really want to do better.
"There's expectations from myself and from others. That's how it is. You always want to get better and take the next step. Now, having played with Sami [Salo] lately against their skill guys, I have to be on top of my game every game."
Edler said his placid personality could actually work in his favour because opponents may underestimate how hard he competes. If that was the case, his cover is blown.
"I was giving it to him in practice, saying 'big game, Eddie,' " Canuck enforcer Darcy Hordichuk said. "He said the hits just came to him. I said: 'No, Eddie, one hit came to you — Doughty. The rest of them, you made the decision.' The whole game was like, holy cripes. Not only does a hit like that slow Doughty down, now everyone coming down [into the Canuck zone] is going to be thinking: What's he going to do this time?"
Bowness, who coaches Canuck defencemen, is relentless in urging Edler to play with more overt intensity.
"I've always been like this, very calm," Edler said. "Sometimes I might look a little too calm. But I like to be like that and be in control. If you get rattled, sometimes that's when you start making mistakes."
To get Edler more involved with teammates, Bieksa has given him the responsibility of watching the clock in the dressing room and deciding when it's time to go on the ice for warm-up. The moment can vary by a few ticks, depending on superstition and the precise number counting down.
So does Edler jump up from his locker and shout some battle cry, maybe wearing a Viking helmet and sounding a bugle?
"No, he says: 'It's time,'" a teammate explained.
Sigh. Just nobody tell the Kings.
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