In 2003, Thomas Vanek was the 5th overall pick for the Buffalo Sabres. He was already deemed as 'a natural goal scorer' but many scouts considered him to be lazy on some nights. Regardless of this being the European stereotype or it being the typical terminology used with some college players, the Sabres still took him and expected huge things from him. He had a pretty good rookie season with the exception of the playoffs where he was scratched for the Eastern Conference Finals against Carolina. As we all know, he came back the next season with 43 goals, a +47, and an impending 7-year, $50 million contract in the summer.
Ever since that contract most of us have expected a lot of Vanek. We expect more than fifty goals a season, we expect him to be on the scoresheet every night, we expect him to play in every situation. Expectations go a long way with this guy. Jeremy White Tweeted the other night that he will remember this season as the year most Sabres fans finally embraced Vanek and what he's become in the past few years - except for those who still claim he's lazy and wish we had gotten the draft picks instead in the summer of '07.
Here's the problem with Vanek: it's the kind of person he is. This reflects on how he plays, the decisions he makes. It's no secret that Vanek has been my favorite player since 2006 so I've been watching him particularly close over any other player on this team which I believe causes me to over analyze on the type of person he is. I think I've only heard him throw someone under the bus in two of his interviews out of them ALL, while also throwing himself under the bus. He consistently puts himself down over and over again, even about plays he wasn't involved in. It's to the point where it's ridiculous.
He wants to work in all areas of his game which is what Lindy has wanted to do for so long, but there are Sabres fans who just want Vanek to be 'the goal scorer'. Nothing else. They don't expect more assist than goals (in fact, they abhor it). If he isn't right on a guy's ass on a backcheck, he's lazy. If he's coasting near the blueline to try and score on a breakaway, he's lazy. I always wonder if the Vanek haters have colored glasses on that block out all the positive aspects about him or what. I know I am biased but I think even if I hated the guy, I could see that he has changed quite a bit from the 22-year old who was stuck sitting in the pressbox; knowing he had to change something about his work ethic and self to be better in the fall of 2006.
This is the guy who stayed calm and collected after the Washington game to say that the game last night was more important - and they won. You have to wonder if he said anything in the lockerroom to get the guys going or if they already knew it by the look in his eyes. The faint outline of a 'C' should be stitched in Vanek's jersey in a light, gold color. Whether you guys like it or not, he has indeed grown up. You should, too.