Call them unnoticed and underappreciated, breakout players, or rising stars under the radar. Here are 10 players making an impact for their teams this season, who will rarely grab the headlines.
In no order of importance, the unheralded top ten is:
Brian Rolston -
Handy on both the PK and PP, he is a player shaped in the Jacques Lemaire mold. Speedy and intuitive, Rolston plays a role in every Wild win. A gamer 29 other teams would throw on the ice in any game situation, Rolston is enjoting what could be a career year. Won't belong on a list such as this much longer.
Justin Williams - Carolina Hurricanes
An unsung hero of the 'Canes Cup win, this forward is no treat to deal with in corners or in the slot. Consistantly puts up decent numbers while countering the oppositions best threats. Can adjust to any game and tempo, and plays in all game situations. Undid Montreal in last years playoff (in more ways than one) as much as Cam Ward.
Yanic Perreault - Phoenix Coyotes
Reigning facing king has been a late season signing two years running. Missed by each team failing to resign him, YP has offensive flair to go with defensive competance. Though he's never met a corner he's comfortable in, he's put up numbers with limited icetime, won draws at close to a 60% clip, and faced the other teams best while keeping a decent plus/minus. Ottawa, Vancouver, Pittsburgh, and Toronto, really missd the boat on a player who settled for $700,000 year.
Alexei Ponikarovsky - Toronto Maple Leafs
The Buds man of all lines is heading for a career year. Used to shifting line mates, Pony has nonetheless continued to improve offensively. While he adjusts to new linemates by habit, defensive liabilities about him have vanished. The best plus player on his team is on his way to a key componant role.
John-Michael Liles - Colorado Avalanche
JML has found himself the unlikely anchor of the Avs D, a role in which he has aquitted himself quite well in. He Q.B.'s the PP and kills off penalties while maintaining close to a point per game ratio. While his rise to the Avs #1 D-man was accentuated by others departures, he has learned and adapted well to his role. As the Avalanches youth matures, so will he.
P.J. Axelsson - Boston Bruins
A role player extraordinaire, P.J. surely underestimated his value in last seasons open market. A proficient pest and speedy thorn, Axe is the type of player every team needs. He stirs, grinds, and needles with Tucker-like instinct. His one drawback is he disappears once games are lost causes. On a winner, he'd be noticed more.
Chris Neil - Ottawa Senators
An old time crowd pleaser with fists, hands, and heart. Shows up, game in game out, despite the score. This sparkplug has desire to spare and has produced surprising numbers while playing in reduced and limited roles. Has greatly overacheived despite what was thought of as a limited talent. Ought to be the next Senators captain.
Chris Clark - Washington Capitals
Parlayed what he learned with Darryl Sutter's Flames into a sound defensive game, he now covers and rides shotgun for Alexander Ovechkin's offensive outbursts. Though the numbers come with the linemates, Clarke is a solid bargain in both ends of the rink. OV won't play a shift without him.
Mike Komisarek - Montreal Canadiens
This former 1st round pick is coming into his own. Call him a subtle Dion Phaneuf, Komi has gained confidence while being the best plus player on the Habs. His hits are painful without needing a highlight reel windup, and he has adapted to the freewheeling new NHL to the surprise of many. A leader in the making and a vital cog in the Habs future.
Olaf Kolzig - Washington Capitals
How does a former All - Star get termed underrated? Forgotten in dismal Caps years, Olie the Goalie has the knack of beating teams singlehandedly on odd nights. Facing close to 40 shots per game, Kolzig is at his best when peppered. A shame he isn't on a contender! Olie is the missing link to many teams Stanley Cup dream. Has stolen his fair share of games so far, and the season is still early. An unsung MVP.