Minutes after Dale Weise arrived in Montreal on a flight from Vancouver, he told the cameras of 24CH that if they went to his room at his parents' house in Winnipeg, they'd find it covered with Montreal Canadiens stuff.
When he arrived, no one thought he'd be much more than a gritty third- or fourth-liner, with limited scoring and moderate face-punching ability. My friend and I decided that he was a Percival type, coming to Camelot (sorry, Montreal) to join the Knights of the Round Table (the Habs of the Bell Centre) like he'd always dreamed.
Of course, this was because we're nerds, not because we expected him to become a local hero. Though it sure makes for a good story.
Like all proper storybook heroes, Weise was plucked from relative obscurity by the New York Rangers, who drafted him in the fourth round, 111th overall. He showed some real promise during his three years in the AHL. He didn't post earth shattering numbers, but they were very respectable.
During his years with the Hartford Wolf Pack, and later the Connecticut Whale, he earned the reputation of being a solid all-around player, and a clutch performer with a relentless work ethic. He even won a few accolades, such as the Wolf Pack's Man of the Year for 2008-09; his rookie season.
With his speed, size, willingness to play a hard-nosed game, scoring ability, and all those other sporting cliches, one would have thought his transition into a solid bottom-six NHLer would have come fairly smoothly. Only it didn't, because this story has a good old-fashioned villain, as every good story must. Okay, maybe John Tortorella isn't exactly the main villain, but he certainly was a recurring obstacle in our hero's path.
Tortorella viewed Weise as a fourth-line tough guy for the Rangers, and iced him for an average of just over six minutes per game. He only played 10 games before being claimed off waivers by the Vancouver Canucks the next season, and it seemed like he'd seen the last of Torts. Under Alain Vigneault, he played two years of tough minutes on the fourth line. Not huge minutes by any stretch, but useful ones, and he wasn't entirely terrible.
During the lockout of 2012-13, Weise played for the Tilburg Trappers of the Dutch Eredivisie, where he racked up an insane 22 goals and 24 assists in nineteen games. This is how he earned the "Dutch Gretzky" moniker, an homage to his prolific output, once characteristic of the Great One.
In 2013-14 the Vancouver comedy of errors began, and thefired Vigneault. In his place they hired Tortorella, who like every proper antagonist, made his return just when he was least expected.
Under Torts for the second time, Weise saw his importance as a tough-minutes player go down, even as his overall ice time stayed about the same. Furthermore, it was fairly clear that Tortorella didn't like him, and that they disagreed on the kind of player Weise was. Tortorella wanted him to be a fighter and a fourth-line tough guy, and Weise saw himself more as a skill player. Two-and-a-half years of hindsight later — ridiculous luck or no — it seems that Weise won the debate.
In the infamous Vancouver vs. Calgary game of January 2014, Weise was one of the brawlers that Tortorella sent out to open the game. Like everyone else on the ice at the time, he was thrown out 0:02 into the contest with a fighting major and a game misconduct. That was more or less the end for Weise in Vancouver.
A little under two years later, Dale Weise was in the opening lineup against the Calgary Flames again, but oh how times had changed. Playing on the hottest line of the best team in the league, instead of being ignominiously thrown out in the first seconds of the game, he was the first star, recording his first career hat trick and playing 14:17. How much more storybook can you get?
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
A few weeks after that Calgary game in 2014, Weise was traded to the Canadiens for Raphael Diaz. It didn't take long for him to endear himself to fans. Playing at least two more minutes a night than he ever had before, Weise was expected to be a quick and contributing fourth-liner, and was no longer required (or even expected) to drop the gloves. He flourished.
His overtime winner in Game One against the Tampa Bay Lightning made him popular. His series against the Boston Bruins made him adored. After all, who doesn't like the story of a former nobody showing up the biggest and baddest in such a decisive fashion?
All through 2014-15 he continued to show up the Bruins, and just about everyone else who doubted him. Should he have been a first-liner? Perhaps not, but Michel Therrien gave him the opportunity, and he ran with it. Even better, he hasn't showed any sign of slowing down -- even though the odds say he really should have by now.
His four goals, 10 assists in 2013-14 were a career high. In 2014-15 he set a new high of nine goals 18 assists. Less than 20 games into the 2015-16 season, he's on pace to shatter that high, as he already has eight goals and three assists.
Weise's usage and success have varied over the years, but surprisingly, luck has always been on his side. He is currently sporting a 19.5 personal shooting percentage, after being at 10.2 last year, and 15.3 the year before. His on-ice shooting percentage is similarly high, and has been since before he came to the Habs. In fact, it's been going up every year since 2013.
Dale Weise is not a superstar. His defensive play frequently leaves much be desired, and maybe this stretch of games is the best hockey he's ever going to play. Statistics, and past examples alike suggest that it shouldn't last much longer. Then again, there are always outliers, and perhaps Dutch Gretzky is one who can defy all expectations.
Dale Weise is supremely confident, and he thrives on defying expectations. Luck (at least of the shooting kind) has always been on his side. Moreover, he's on one of the best teams in the league. Sometimes that's all you need to overcome impossible odds. More often than not, those make for the best stories.