#3: Petteri Nummelin
The best players you've never heard of
Team: Minnesota Wild
Pos.: D - Ht.: 5-10 - Wt.: 196
Hometown: Turku, Finland
Key stats: Two weeks ago, his numbers were far more impressive and he'd likely be at the head of the class here. Despite the fact he's gone -14 in the Wild's last 14 games, Nummelin has been a big part of the team's strong play in Minnesota this season, playing more than 21 minutes per game and big minutes on the power play. Production wise, he has nine points in 23 games, seven of which came in the opening 13 games. The NHL's grueling travel schedule has begun to wear on him, he's said recently — not a good sign given how early into the season we are.
James on Petteri: A smallish, offensive defender — the kind Finland seems to be pumping out lately — Nummelin originally had a stint in the NHL with Columbus in his draft year (2000), and he had 16 points in 61 games as a 27-year-old rookie. Now 34, Nummelin spent the past five seasons with Lugano of the Swiss league, and his numbers there were nothing short of stunning. In 199 games played, he managed 68 goals and 232 points over that span, which doesn't even include an eye-popping turn in the 2006 playoffs when he had 33 points in 17 games. He won the scoring title in 2004, and the Swiss league championship in 2003 and 2006.
During the NHL lockout, Nummelin finished with only five fewer points than Joe Thornton despite the fact the plucky Finn played four fewer games. He's definitely got skills.
What he doesn't have is size or much of a defensive aptitude, and Nummelin's been giving the ultra-conservative coach Jacques Lemaire fits lately with his play in his own end. That wouldn't be so bad if he'd kept putting up the points with the man advantage, but as the Wild have struggled, Nummelin's offence has dried up.
Nummelin's extremely experienced at the international level, having played in 11 World Championships and one Olympic games (2006). At the 2006 World Championship in Riga, Latvia, he led the bronze-medal winning Finnish squad in scoring (14 points in nine games) and was named a tournament all-star.
His father, Timo, was a legendary Finnish defenceman who played 25 years in that country's elite league — including one as Petteri's defence partner when father was 42 and son was 18.
Pub for Petteri:
Lemaire said he "never, ever, never, never, ever, ever" expected he'd be getting such a high quality defenseman when the Wild shipped a third-round pick to Atlanta for Nummelin's rights in June.