When Justin Williams was 4 years old and skating on the 20 feet by 20 feet frozen pond in the front yard of his family’s home in Cobourg, Ontario, he never dreamed of someday scoring his 600th point against the Detroit Red Wings on Dec. 8, 2015.
When he was a Pee Wee player and begged Quebec Nordiques defenseman Adam Foote for his stick – one he still owns today – he never dreamed that someday pint-sized hockey fans would beg him for his.
When he was cut from three different teams before he turned 16 and was finally taken by the Plymouth Whalers in the sixth round of the OHL draft, he never dreamed that two years later he’d be taken by the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round (28th overall) of the 2000 NHL draft.
And when he scored his first NHL goal on his second NHL shift, firing his own rebound past Vancouver Canucks goaltender Felix Potvin on Oct. 5, 2000, he never thought he’d be standing in front of reporters more than 15 years later discussing his 600th NHL point.
“Things started small for me,” Williams, 34, said on Monday, one day before pitchforking Evgeny Kuznetsov’s centering pass under Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard for his milestone point Tuesday night at Verizon Center.
“My first goal was to get drafted. The next goal was to make the NHL. The next goal was to score 10 goals in a year, then 20.”
Williams netted 12 goals in that rookie season in Philadelphia, and 17 in his next. But a series of injuries limited him to eight goals in 41 games in 2002-03 and six goals in his first 47 games in 2003-04. That’s when the Flyers, in desperate need of defensive help, traded Williams to the Carolina Hurricanes for defenseman Danny Markov.
It will go down as one of the most lopsided trades in Flyers history. Markov turned out to be a midseason rental, playing just 34 games for Philadelphia before heading to Russia during the NHL lockout.
Williams’ career blossomed in Carolina, where he topped 30 goals in back-to-back seasons (2005-07) and won his first Stanley Cup in 2006.
Injuries to his knee and wrist limited Williams to 12 goals in 69 games over his next two seasons in Carolina and on March 9, 2009 he was dealt to the Los Angeles Kings for Patrick O’Sullivan and a second-round draft pick. Again, Williams made the trade look lopsided.
While O’Sullivan’s NHL career fizzled after the deal, Williams again was rejuvenated. He netted consecutive 22-goal seasons with the Kings and won his second Stanley Cup in 2012. Two years later he led all NHL players in playoff scoring, winning a third Stanley Cup, a Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP and the nickname of Mr. Game 7, with seven goals and seven assists in 14 career Game 7s.
“That’s how I’ve been able to stick around so long,” Williams said. “I’ve set different goals for myself throughout my career and once I reach a goal, I try to set the bar a little higher. I hit 500 (points) and I try for 600.”
Despite missing just one game in his last four seasons with the Kings, Williams saw the writing on the wall after Los Angeles missed the playoffs last spring and set his sights on the free agent market, where the Caps signed him to a two-year, $6.5 million contract last summer.
So far he’s been worth the investment. In his first 26 games with the Caps, Williams has eight goals and 10 assists, putting him on pace for 25 goals and 57 points. Capitals coach Barry Trotz said there is far more to Williams than his offensive numbers.
“He brings a lot of accountability,” Trotz said. “He grabs his teammates and says, ‘Let’s get this thing going.’ He knows the moments when a team is dragging or needs to put the hammer down. He’s excellent at that.
“I think he’s skating as well as I’ve ever seen him skate. I knew he was a player that had some deception in his game but I didn’t realize he’s like a jitterbug. He’s always moving and I really appreciate his total game and what he’s doing, not only with his linemates but with his team.”
Whether it was fate or simply a stroke of luck, Williams’ 600th point on Tuesday night came with his 60-year-old father, Craig, watching from a suite with about 20 other player dads. It was 30 years ago that Craig Williams first started skating with Justin and his sister on their front yard pond.
“Your parents are your role models, right?” Williams said. “A lot of things he does are the way I do things. Some people have different levels of how they enjoyed their childhood and mine was great. I had a great father figure to look up to as a role model, as a husband and father and man.
“He taught me that anything worth fighting for is going to be hard and it takes perseverance.”
If Williams plays the remaining 56 games on the Capitals’ schedule, he will hit the 1,000-game milestone on the Caps’ final regular season game on April 9 in St. Louis. If that is next on his list of career goals, it’s certainly not alone.
“Maybe I’ll get to 700 (points) and maybe I won’t,” Williams said. “We’ll see how it goes. That’s not really the bench mark I’m looking for at this point. I want another ring on my finger and that’s what drives me now.”