Monday, November 20, 2006

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.
  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. No one who has gained prominence through their international play or high-profile tournaments. Shea Weber immediately comes to mind, as does Dustin Penner.

  5. 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.)
Those are my oh-so-stringent stipulations.

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.


At 3:28 a.m., November 20, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

G&M is the only newspaper I read (online or otherwise) but most of the time I can't find the hockey blog. I usually come to your site to find the link. Are your bosses trying to hide it or am I retarded?

At 7:54 a.m., November 20, 2006, Blogger Joe Pelletier said... talks about Shane O'Brien this morning:

It should come as no surprise that Shane O'Brien is putting up some impressive statistics in the NHL. Entering the season, the only question mark for the 23-year-old rookie blueliner was: would he make the team this year?

The 6-2, 237-pound giant did in fact make the team and has filled in nicely as a No. 5/6 defenseman for the Ducks. In keeping with his 600-plus penalty minutes over the last two AHL seasons, O'Brien has compiled over 70 penalty minutes already this year.

Add this to the fact that Anaheim's eighth-round draft pick in 2003 (250th overall) is producing at a rate of nearly a point every two games, he is clearly a solid sleeper pick in fantasy-hockey pools that count multiple stats. In Friday night's game against Chicago, he logged over 19 minutes of ice time. Clearly, his stock is rising. A season of 30-plus points and 200-plus penalty minutes should be in the cards. In said fantasy pools, that's gold.

Joe Pelletier

At 10:49 a.m., November 20, 2006, Anonymous Chris DeGroat @ The Checking Line said...

Since I'm not sure that any game played by the St Louis Blues last season should actually count as a game played, I'm gonna cheat a little bit. Even though he played 57 games last season, I think Lee Stempniak is the type of player that you're looking for. He was a 5th round pick out of Dartmouth and has 8 goals and 14 points in 19 games this season.

At 11:16 a.m., November 20, 2006, Anonymous Arcanas said...

Bit off topic, but not really...who are you picking to win the Vanier, James? ;)

At 11:55 a.m., November 20, 2006, Anonymous Bob C said...

My favourite hidden gem has to be Jeff Hamilton.

8 points in 17 games. Good for fifth on the team in scoring.

The all-time Yale scoring leader. Undrafted.

At 12:52 p.m., November 20, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

With 186 career games played, he doesn't meet the requirements for #3, but I'd still vote for J.S. Aubin.

The Leafs' record in front of him is now something like 13-1-3 over the past two years.

That has to be worth something

At 12:53 p.m., November 20, 2006, Blogger Rick said...

Dustin Penner.

At 1:33 p.m., November 20, 2006, Anonymous mudcrutch79 said...

The Electric Norseman, Patrick Thoresen.

At 1:49 p.m., November 20, 2006, Anonymous Julian said...

Stemniak has his own entry in the BOA glossary, he's definitely known by this point.

At 1:55 p.m., November 20, 2006, Anonymous paul said...

Does Ian White count? Sure, he's a household name around Leafland now, but has the rest of the league taken notice? He's definitely been a pleasant surprise so far. Even after his nice WJC showing, I thought he'd be buried in the depth chart, with an upside of Nathan Dempsey at best. Instead, he's cracked the top 4, and is (for now) good enough to relegate Kubina to the 3rd pairing.

At 2:02 p.m., November 20, 2006, Anonymous paul said...

Here's another:
Johan Holmqvist. Making a case for more playing time behind Marc Denis, despite having only 4 NHL games under his belt before this season.

At 2:57 p.m., November 20, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Patrick Thoresen of course.

Who ever heard of this guy?

Except Lowetide and diehard Oilogosperans who read him.

At 3:07 p.m., November 20, 2006, Anonymous David Johnson said...

If being out of the league for 5 years reinstates your 'nobody has heard of you credentials' then Petteri Nummelin of the Wild would be a good choice. He played 61 games for Columbus in 2000-01 but no one has heard of him, now or then. He's is second on the team (to Kim Johnsson) in time on ice per game and has been pretty good on the PP.

At 3:28 p.m., November 20, 2006, Anonymous paul said...

Lasse Kukkonen.

Logs heavy minutes, and is tied with Brent Seabrook for best +/- (+4) amoung D on a bad Blackhawks team. Also, the irreplaceable tells me that he and Seabrook are getting all the PP minutes, ahead of the cannon that is (was?) Adrian Aucoin.

He has a silver medal from 2006, but didn't play in any games, so that shouldn't disqualify him.

OK, that's 3. I'm done.

At 4:13 p.m., November 20, 2006, Anonymous grace said...

Per the email I sent when the comments section was crapping out, Patrick Thoresen. It's not his fault that 15 Oiler blogs exist and each one has something that's beyond man-crush for him. Edmontonoians, and Oil fans in general, need to stop surfing the net so much.

At 8:29 p.m., November 20, 2006, Blogger Earl Sleek said...

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.

You're kidding me, right?

At 12:50 a.m., November 21, 2006, Anonymous Karina said...

I'm going to second Ian White here... noone even expected him to be on the Leafs this year, with the likes of Kronvall, Colaiacovo, and Wozeniewski ahead of him on the depth chart, and the signings of Gill and Kubina. But he's playing 21 minutes a night, gets power play time, and looks pretty damned good back there on our blue line.


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