#5: Johnny Oduya
The best players you've never heard of
Team: New Jersey Devils
Pos.: D - Ht.: 6-0 - Wt.: 200
Hometown: Stockholm, Swe.
Key stats: More of a defensive type, his numbers aren't going to blow anyone away (zero goals, 2 assists, +4 in 19 games), but Oduya's playing close to 20 minutes a game on the Devils blueline paired with veteran Brian Rafalski. Oduya is second on the team in blocked shots (35) and third among Devils blueliners in power-play ice time per game (2:16).
James on Johnny: Is it just me, or does the NHL need a few more players named 'Johnny'? The son of a Kenyan father and Swedish mother, Oduya and his older brother Fredrik both made the trip to North America early on to play junior hockey. Johnny played just one season in the QMJHL with Moncton and Victoriaville before joining the Swedish Elite League, but his CHL numbers were quite impressive (68 GP, 14 goals, 68 pts., 259 PIM). He likes to fancy himself a tough player, and put up huge PIM totals in Sweden, but given his comparatively modest size in the NHL, he hasn't taken to much rough play — at least not yet — and it's been mainly his excellent skating ability and playmaking that has stood out. I think the best thing you can say for Oduya at this point is that he fits in the New Jersey's system perfectly, plays some difficult minutes and doesn't look at all out of place despite the fact he was a seventh-round pick back in 2001.
Pub for Johnny:
"He's played very well for us," Devils coach Claude Julien told NHL.com. "He's had the opportunity to get more ice time because of some injuries and he's responded very well. He's a very mobile player, skates well, sees the ice well, is moving the puck well. The good part about John is he seems to be getting better every game, so the more confidence and the more ice he gets, the better he seems to be. We're very pleased with him.
"For me, he's a guy that has gotten better as he has gotten to know our organization better. He's understanding what we are trying to accomplish and he's feeling more comfortable in his position."