Is there a more underrated player than...
... Michal Rozsival?
Every Rangers' game I've seen recently, he's impressed me, and after a career year in the regular season, he's already got three goals and five points in seven playoff games. He's one of the key cogs now on a New York power play that is the best in the league, at least in terms of artistry, and scored the winner in a must-win on a beautiful point shot today against the Sabres in double overtime. Rozsival also played the most minutes of any player on either team (38:16) and finished plus-two on the day, despite the fact it was uncertain whether or not he'd return from a knee injury suffered earlier.
Not bad for $2.1-million/year.
And yet his signing in August was little more than a footnote, even though he finished last season at plus-35, which was good enough to take home the Bud Light Plus-Minus Award while playing for a team not known for its defensive prowess.
Rozsival's not a huge guy (6-foot-2, 210 pounds), but the real key to his game is a combination of above average skating and puck-moving ability. An outlet pass is such a simple thing, but when you're outletting to the likes of Jagr, Straka and Nylander, it can make a big difference if you're enabling them to gain that extra step up the ice.
Going back 10 years or so, I remember watching him as a youngster, an import player on the Swift Current Broncos who emerged as one of the best defencemen in junior hockey in his sophomore WHL season. A mid-round pick by the Pittsburgh Penguins, he had a few nondescript years there before missing the entire 2003-04 season with a ghastly knee injury, then retreated to the Czech Republic for the lockout year before breaking out last season in New York alongside current partner Marek Malik.
He's one of those skaters that has really benefited from the 'new' game, becoming the Rangers' equivalent of a Brian Campbell or Brian Rafalski — blueliners who play the game a certain understated way that doesn't often involve knocking the tugboats in front of the net on their cans (Campbell v. Umberger excepted). There's been more of a premium on fundamental skills — stickhandling, skating and passing — for defencemen in the past two seasons, something that's allowed more than a few players previously branded 'soft' excel (see Visnovsky, Lubo or Timonen, Kimmo).
All that said, it's worth keeping in mind that Rozsival's still just 28, and will be an unrestricted free agent following next season.
And given what we've seen so far, there's a good chance he'll be one of the guys taking big-ticket offers come July 1, 2008.