The NHL's hidden gems
Finding the best player you've never heard of
Things have been a little hairy on my end recently, as with the Canadian university football playoffs winding down the need to commit journalism for the dead-tree medium winds up (here, here and here — and, well, how was your Saturday?).
For the scant few CIS fans out there, I'll have more over the next five or six days as the Vanier Cup is played out West for the first time ever, so start checking the On Campus section towards the middle of the week.
That — combined with trying to help The Globe's fledgling hockey blog off its feet — might eat into things here a little, but there's one undertaking I've been meaning to take on for weeks now and I'm just going to throw it out there and hope it goes as planned.
Every year, there are a ton of newcomers in the NHL who, while not heralded on their way into the league, ultimately end up becoming integral parts of their team — and sometimes right away.
I'm thinking of players like Brian Rafalski in 1999-00 or Jason Pominville last season, guys who weren't high draft picks, who didn't get any press and who barely even made their respective teams.
And now, well, it's like they were always here.
I love those kinds of stories, and whenever I watch games between teams who don't get a lot of press, I've always got my eye out for someone who makes an impression, stands out and is just deserving of more notice. Last season when I visited Buffalo for the first time, it was guys like Pominville and Paul Gaustad, who are both playing a big part in what's happening with the Sabres this season.
Point being: A year ago at this point, no one knew who Pominville was and, at the moment, he's on pace for 45 goals and on the tip of the tongue for a whole lot more hockey fans. (I'm still kicking myself for not drafting him in half my pools.)
So, in order to qualify for 'best player you've never heard of' status, however, there are going to have to be some ground rules.
- No first-round picks. This one's sort of a no-brainer, as most hockey fans know the majority of players snapped up in the opening round of the entry draft.
- No players who played more than 30 games last season. That's going to leave us with a lot of rookies, I realize, but I feel that if you were with us in the NHL last season for a half season or more, you're already a known commodity — even if your name's Brooks Laich.
- No players who had more than 80 career NHL cames played prior to this season. That should eliminate the Glen Metropolits of the world who are back after coming around the first time.
- No one who has gained prominence through their international play or high-profile tournaments. Shea Weber immediately comes to mind, as does Dustin Penner.
- No early rookie scoring leaders. If you've already got more than 10 points in your first season, chances are we've heard of you. (Either that or your dad is in the Hall of Fame.)
Who does that leave? Why — a whole lot of players you've never heard of.
Of course, this is a subjective undertaking and I don't expect to get it all right. Still, I'll have my Top 10 countdown sometime over the next couple of days and reader submissions are welcome, as always.