Saturday, December 01, 2007

Hockey's unsung heroes

I was putting together a list of players who have quietly emerged as key contributers earlier in the week, but given my schedule, I unfortunately didn't get much of a chance to develop it. For what it's worth, here are 14 skaters I came up with that have gone from virtual unknowns to key cogs through the first 25 or so games this season:

Toby Enstrom, Atlanta – Swedish rookie is playing top pair minutes against tough competition and has been solid on the power play

Eric Perrin, Atlanta – Tampa Bay let Marty St. Louis's college pal bolt in the off-season and he's done pretty well in an increased role with the Thrashers (especially on the PK)

Patrick Sharp, Chicago – It's hard to over-emphasize how well Sharp's played so far this season; just look at those PK numbers

Ron Hainsey, Columbus – It's hard to believe the Blue Jackets were able to snag the Habs' former first-rounder on waivers, as he's been a big part of the team's strong play in Columbus

Jan Hejda, Columbus – Oilers fans certainly know what the Czech veteran brought to the table, and he's taken on a top-pairing spot with the Blue Jackets. A very savvy acquisition by new GM Scott Howson

David Booth, Florida – A big kid from Michigan State, he just might be a late-bloomer who fills a valuable checking line spot. I really like what I've seen so far

Mike Komisarek, Montreal – Komisarek certainly gets his due in Quebec, but outside of the province I'm not so sure he's a household name. A terrific defensive player who's starting to come into his own, and someone we'll see with Team USA very soon

Greg Zanon, Nashville – Former Ottawa draftee is another late bloomer, very quietly goes about his business and has been a big part of the Predators' success so far

David Clarkson, New Jersey – Straight from the hometown of Brendan Shanahan, he's scrapped his way into the NHL and shown a nice scoring touch in a depth role

Andy Greene, New Jersey – The Devils have finally started to put something together with six wins in a row, and I've really liked the Miami University grad's poise in his first real season. Greene's a plus-10 in 23 games so far

Braydon Coburn, Philadelphia – One of the real big 'wins' for GM Paul Holmgren last season, Coburn was lifted out of Atlanta in a steal of a deal and looks to be a huge part of the Flyers' blueline for some time to come. He's enormous, and was a stud in the WHL and will be here. Still just 22 and recently signed at a bargain price

Dan Carcillo, Phoenix – The fights have gotten the attention, but the player the Coyotes picked up for Georges Laraque has also had a really nice touch on the power play so far

Martin Hanzal, Phoenix – Only 20, the towering Czech has a future in this league given his play so far

Mike Lundin, Tampa Bay – The Lightning were in a tough spot on the blueline, especially with Dan Boyle out, but Lundin's been a decent depth contributer

What other unknowns have surprised you so far this season?


At 8:41 a.m., December 01, 2007, Blogger RJ said...

Not to be a stickler, James, but Greg Zanon was drafted by Ottawa.

I would add Alex Edler to that list.

He has been a welcome surprise on the Canucks blue line, logging enormous minutes, playing largely mistake-free hockey, and contributing on the power play.

At 10:19 a.m., December 01, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hainsey apparently had a bit of an attitude problem. Also Claude Julien wouldn't know how to develop a young player if his life depended on it. It was only after he was canned that Komisarek and Higgins got their chances. That was totally the Great Julien's fault.
You wonder why he's on his third team in three seasons?

At 11:12 a.m., December 01, 2007, Blogger Hooks Orpik said...

While perhaps not a totally unknown, Mark Eaton has become an indespensable cog in the defense for the Penguins. Eaton is playing 19:42 "tough" minutes a night (defined by me as even-strength plus PK ice-time). He is tied for 5th in the league in blocked shots and wore the A on his jersey due to Gonchar's injury.

And he hasn't had a minus game in terms of +/- in 13 straight games. The team's record over this period has been a lackluster 5-7-1 too! Eaton is tied for the team lead in +/- overall with +6.

At 12:17 p.m., December 01, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

While it's true he made the '06 All-Rookie Team (among the greatest rookie class in NHL history), after last season's disaster, I didn't think Brad Boyes would recover. Now he's in the top 10 in goal-scoring with 15 tallies on the year and is one of the St. Louis' best players. Among defensemen, Douglas Murray is third in the league in +/- and Paul Ranger is tearing it up for Tampa in Boyle's absence.

At 12:22 p.m., December 01, 2007, Blogger mike w said...

How about that Paul Ranger dude in Tampa?

At 12:23 p.m., December 01, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tyler Kennedy in Pittsburgh has really surprised many with his speed and fast accurate shot. While playing well with Staal, Malkin, and Gary Roberts during his time in Pittsburgh it looks as though he's stolen a roster spot from Mark Recchi.

At 12:23 p.m., December 01, 2007, Blogger MetroGnome said...

Matthew Lombardi has been one of the few bright spots in Calgary's otherwise dark season.

At 12:52 p.m., December 01, 2007, Blogger Doogie said...

Also Claude Julien wouldn't know how to develop a young player if his life depended on it. It was only after he was canned that Komisarek and Higgins got their chances. That was totally the Great Julien's fault.
You wonder why he's on his third team in three seasons?

Explain the '03 Bulldogs.

Besides, the Montreal firing and the New Jersey firing both felt political to me, and the Bruins are dramatically improved this year. I'm not seeing what you're seeing, clearly.

At 1:37 p.m., December 01, 2007, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Definitely – Edler and Murray are good suggestions.

Ranger was on Tampa's top defensive pairing last season as a rookie, but probably didn't get enough widespread pub for how well he played there.

At 1:48 p.m., December 01, 2007, Blogger Djlethal01 said...

James Wisniewski has been pretty solid for Chicago this year.

At 2:05 p.m., December 01, 2007, Anonymous BDH said...

Maybe not enough of an impact for this list, but I think Rod Pelley in NJ deserves some love. Undrafted out of Ohio St., he's probably as long a shot to play in the bigs as Clarkson and Greene, and he's been a reliable FO and defensive guy.

At 5:04 p.m., December 01, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I'm a big Devil's fan as well, but I don't think Pelley is good enough to be on this list. He is doing pretty much what most 4th liners in this league do. I think Clarkson/Greene were good choices, but even Brookbank has been a bigger surprise than Pelley.

James, good call on Clarkson. He won't be an unknown once this season is over. He's well on his way to being an all-round pest who can drop the gloves, play defence and put a couple in the net while he's at it.

At 5:44 p.m., December 01, 2007, Blogger J. Michael Neal said...

The line of Perrin/St. Louis/JC Ruid was magic. It was the only line on that Vermont team that could score, though the others played very good defense. They lost in OT to Colorado College in one of the two weirdest hockey games I've ever witnessed.

The other weirdest game was the second semi-final that day. Someone at the Cincinnati Coliseum punctured the coolant line under the ice while drilling a hole for the net. They had to shut down the coolant system at that end of the ice. The CC-Vermont game was played with the ice steadily thawing. The game winning goal should have been waved off because of a hand pass, but the refs let it stand, because at that point, the only other option was to call the game since the teams were trying to skate on a puddle.

At 12:03 a.m., December 02, 2007, Anonymous Eric said...

I was surprised to see how well Randy Jones was contributing from the blueline in Philly prior to the suspension.

Also, Chuck Kobasew in Boston; Cory Stillman in Carolina just keeps plugging along; Adam Burish (sure the numbers aren't pretty, but he works hard and seems to draw a lot of penalties, the type of play that doesn't usually show in the stat sheet but it's invaluable); and I honestly didn't expect Jeremy Roenick to have the production he's had (kudos to JR on rediscovering an offseason training regimen).

At 7:47 a.m., December 02, 2007, Blogger mike said...

NYR rookie defenseman Marc Staal. At his age he's already their best d-man.

At 2:04 p.m., December 02, 2007, Blogger Matt said...

Dan Girardi from the Rangers. Playing huge minutes, and playing very well.

At 3:09 p.m., December 02, 2007, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Yeap, Girardi's another very good suggestion.

At 6:46 p.m., December 02, 2007, Blogger Patty (in Dallas) said...

Matt Niskanen in Dallas has surprised a lot of us. He's only a 20-year-old rookie, but he spends all his time playing with Sergei Zubov and Zubov is in the top 5 scoring for defensemen. He's very mature and makes smart plays and he has the confidence of the whole Stars team.

At 10:12 a.m., December 03, 2007, Blogger murph said...

Richard Park has filled in nicely as the always-hustling-Jason-Blake-type player for the Isles.

At 1:17 p.m., December 04, 2007, Anonymous kengineer said...

You have to check out Kesler from the Canucks , skate like hell,force a play and play the shutdown man against any teams top offensive threat

At 11:05 p.m., December 04, 2007, Anonymous grabam said...

Tom Gilbert has been damn near exceptional here in Edmonton. He's fit in nicely after losing Pitkanen, Souray, Greene, and recently even his D partner Dick Tarnstrom. He makes smart passes, he's almost always in perfect position defensively and he loves to rush the puck up the ice and peek in from the point to get those loose pucks in front.

At 1:01 p.m., December 07, 2007, Anonymous sidfan87 said...

i watched a lot of pittsburgh games early in the season and found myself thinking how bad is mark recchi playing. after 7 games as a healthy scratch he has now been put on waivers and as a pittsburgh fan although its hard to watch a formerly great player slide late in his carreer i'd have to say they made the right decision. Perhaps his terrible play in last years playoffs contributed to his becoming unemployed as well.


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