Rick Tocchet has always been the guiding light for Justin Williams to become a better NHL player.
Tocchet, a former star for the Flyers and five other NHL teams, nurtured Williams as a Flyers rookie in 2000-01, and their conversations are implanted in his mind.
"He told me once, look at different guys in the dressing room and on other teams," the Flyers right winger said yesterday. "When you get into the league a few years, you realize what it takes to stay and sustain a long career. It's doing the extras. It's not just play the game and go home. It's doing everything else and beyond what is expected."
So when Williams suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee last season, had reconstructive surgery and missed half the season, he went beyond what was expected and returned to play in the postseason.
"Knowing it was possible to come back, I had the drive to do it," Williams said. "Also, I wasn't having an outstanding season, and I didn't want to finish it that way. Tock would have done it, too."
The 22-year-old Williams might not possess the agile, free-flowing skill of teammate Simon Gagne, but he has the heart and tenacity that sustain players for a long time in the NHL. Williams is second on the club in points, with seven, after earning two assists in Monday's 5-0 rout of Montreal.
"I have to work hard for my points," Williams said. "I know what I am capable [of]. A lot of people don't know. Fans, [the media], maybe don't see it. Coaches see potential, but a lot of times players don't meet it. This year, I want to prove to everybody that I can put up numbers."
Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock said Williams and other young players would have a bigger "bite" of the action this season. In Williams' case, the coach has given him significantly more time as a penalty killer.
"When you put a player out to kill penalties all the time, that is a message to that player that this is a critical working environment," Hitchcock said.
To Williams, it meant it was time to raise the level of his game. He says he has a mission this season.
"I don't want to be Justin Williams, the kid, anymore," he said. "I want to show I am more than just a kid."
Both Williams and Gagne were first-round Flyers draft picks. Around the NHL, the perception is that Gagne is more skilled, while Williams possesses the tenacity to become a self-made player. Gagne scored 33 goals two seasons ago. Williams had 17 that year.
"Gags obviously improved himself. He scored 30 goals," Williams said. "Myself, I haven't. I haven't even scored 20 yet. It doesn't bother me. Maybe Gagne is a better goal scorer than me. Maybe I don't have the offensive [characteristics] he does. There are other parts to the game besides goal scoring."
Flyers veteran Mark Recchi says some people have sold Williams short.
"His skill level is really high, almost as high as Gags'," Recchi said. "He's a different type of player. He's shiftier. Gags is real fast and creates opportunities. Justin is more of a keep-on-going, keep-on-going pest and very good at making plays."
Williams played the role of the "chase" man on Michal Handzus' line, with John LeClair, on Monday. He goes into the back boards, gets dirty, and hunts down the puck.
Williams said he would like his game to resemble that of Peter Forsberg.
"He's way up there," Williams said of the Colorado Avalanche star. "That is a guy I kind of look at."