Niclas Wallin was drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes as a 25-year old in the fourth round of the 2000 NHL draft. The hope was that as a mature player, he could fairly quickly develop into a serviceable NHL depth defenseman. He did. But his place in Hurricanes history is much greater than could ever have been imagined for a 25-year old draftee not at all from the category of ‘promising 18-year old who could be great someday.’
He started the 2000-01 season with the Hurricanes AHL affiliate Cincinnati but found his way to the NHL level after only a twelve game tune up in the minors. He quickly settled into a role as a good depth defenseman, and that is mostly where he stayed for nine seasons. He grew to be a likable personality for Canes fans partly due to his playoff heroics, but also because of his ‘gentle giant’ personality. He was a hulking 6-3 220 pounds with a deep voice and grizzly face – think Thor except on skates – but was an all-around likable guy and willing role player.
Seemingly every training camp, it was the same routine for Wallin. He was coming off a solid though not spectacular previous season usually in a third pairing role. But along the way, the Canes had added a player or two via trade or free agency or had a young player coming up through the system. Year after year, Wallin seemed to enter training camp slotted either compete for the #6 spot or maybe just fill the #7 spot. Never did he complain, grumble or suggest that he had earned more of a guarantee. Instead, he just played his same brand of solid hockey in training camp in September and into the regular season in October and forward. And as things sorted themselves out with injuries, trades, failed rookie trials and whatever else, Niclas Wallin quietly rose to the top to find himself somewhere in the middle of the regulars on defense for the Carolina Hurricanes. In his usual depth role, he logged 517 regular season games in a Hurricanes sweater (placing him seventh overall as of August 2015) with modest scoring totals of 18 goals and 41 assists.
But Niclas Wallin’s legacy with the Carolina Hurricanes was not built on longevity, nor was it built during the regular season. It was built during the playoffs. He is one of only three players who were part of all three deep playoff runs in 2002, 2006 and 2009 (and three is actually counting Eric Cole who was a big part of the 2005-06 team but played only two playoff games because of injury). Wallin ranks second only to Rod Brind’Amour having logged 66 playoff games with the Hurricanes out of a total of 78 total playoff games for the team in its history. So if you watch a Canes playoff game, you very likely are watching Niclas Wallin play in it.
His playoff scoring totals were similarly modest at three goals and five assists over his 66 Canes playoff games, but oh did he make them count. In addition to playing solid third pairing minutes with Marek Malik, Wallin scored two of the biggest goals of the 2002 playoffs and most memorable games in Carolina Hurricanes history. He scored the overtime game-winner in the Canes stunning comeback from three goals down in the third period in game four of the Montreal series. The game was immediately dubbed the ‘Miracle at Molson’ and was arguably the best game of the entire 2002 playoffs. He followed that up with another overtime game-winner in game two versus Toronto in the Eastern Conference Finals and staked his claim to a leadership role on a team that the local fans and media started calling the Cardiac Canes. In addition to his overtime goal-scoring heroics, Wallin was a solid plus four (+/-) and key part of an underrated defense that kept games close setting the stage for the late game heroics including Wallin’s.
When the Carolina Hurricanes next made the playoffs in the 2005-06 season, Wallin was again in a third pairing defense role, this time with veteran captain Glen Wesley. And he again saved his limited goal scoring for just the right time. When he scored the overtime game-winner in game two of the second round of the 2006 playoffs against New Jersey he had again put the cap on an utterly wild Canes playoff game for the ages. That game featured a highly improbable Eric Staal game-tying goal with three seconds left in regulation following a Scott Gomez goal only 17 seconds earlier that seemingly ended. Staal’s goal happened with fans streaming out the exits while the teams lined up for what was supposed to be an inconsequential last center ice faceoff with 20 seconds left. Wallin’s breakaway goal in overtime put the Canes up 2-0 in the series and on the path to a 4-1 series win. When asked about his knack for scoring huge playoff goals, he finished his usually short interview responses by saying, “Call me the secret weapon.” To this day he is fondly remembered by that nickname with long-time Canes fans. He finished the 2006 playoffs as a plus player (+3) again in a third pairing role and tossed in his usual heroics as a bonus.
Wallin was again in the role of depth defenseman when the playoffs returned to Raleigh in 2009. He did not score in those playoffs, but again anchored a depth pairing defensively and for the third consecutive time finished the playoffs as a plus player (+1).
As a likable and steady depth defenseman who played his best hockey and did much of his scoring in the pressure of the playoffs, “The Secret Weapon”, Niclas Wallin, cemented a place for himself in Carolina Hurricanes history.