He went undrafted. He didn't make his NHL debut until two weeks after his 26th birthday. Despite being a late-bloomer, Joel Ward has now become of the most well-known playoff performers in the NHL. Some call him Wardo, others "The Big Cheese", and everyone loves him. It might be impossible to find a bad word said about Joel Ward.
The first year Shark with the big butt, is once again going above and beyond what one would normally expect of a guy who didn't make his NHL debut until his mid-20s. A .44 points-per-game player in the regular season, Ward came into these playoffs with a .66 PPG rate in his previous 53 playoff games. This year, through four games against Los Angeles, Ward quietly has another three points (all assists) including a brilliant look-off feed in Game 4 that opened the scoring.
Four games is certainly a tiny sample size, but the .75 PPG rate for Ward in the first few games of the playoffs, can't surprise anyone right? His .22 jump in production from the regular season to the postseason is one of the biggest playoff increases in the league. The only other role player with a stronger reputation for elevating his production come playoffs is the Capitals' Justin Williams.
Wardo Flying Under the Radar
It is rather fitting that with a nickname like Wardo, that Joel Ward is flying under the radar. You could put a cape on the back of his jersey and he still would be able to go undetected with his sneaky ability to come up with a huge play in big moments.
Star teammates Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns and Martin Jones are deservedly receiving the majority of headlines, but guess who tallied the primary assist on both of Burns' goals thus far? You guessed it, Joel Ward.
While he has yet to score a goal and neither of his assists have come in late game-tying nor game-winning situations, all three have come on important goals nonetheless.
Three Important Helpers
The first assist came in Game 1 as Ward won an offensive-zone faceoff back to Burns who used his wicked hard wrist shot to beat Jonathan Quick through a screen. Ward's second assist (later that night) came less than a minute after the Sharks had gone down 3-2 on a short-handed goal by the Kings' Trevor Lewis. San Jose's second power-play unit came out with a dominating shift after the goal against. Ward was right in the middle of the net-front scrum when Tomas Hertl fired the loose puck through Quick's five hole.
And finally in Thursday's Game 4, Ward's gorgeous dish opened the scoring early in the second period. After a nice give-and-go at the point with Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Ward skated down the right wing and lifted his left leg as if he was about to shoot. However, in one smooth motion Ward instead slid the puck across perfectly on to the tape for the Burns one-timer. The power-play goal made the Kings' Jeff Carter pay as he was in the box for sucker punching Vlasic.
Stay Hot Big Cheese
It is still very early in these playoffs, but Ward is picking up right where he left off last season with Washington when he led the team in scoring with nine points in 14 games. Ward played on the top line in last year's postseason with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. He is the type of guy that can play on any of the four forward lines, power play and penalty kill. He's been nothing short of advertised signing with San Jose as a free agent this past offseason.