One of the most underrated players in the NHL is Toronto Maple Leafs forward Patrick Marleau, who became the 18th player in League history to reach 1,500 games when he played in a 6-3 win against the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday.
Unlike the other 17 players to reach this milestone, Marleau, 38, has never been recognized with any League-wide individual award, been voted a First- or Second-Team All-Star, or finished a season in the top 10 in scoring. Instead, Marleau managed to reach the milestone because of three important, underrated qualities: durability, consistency and versatility.
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Marleau has not missed a game since the 2008-09 season. He has played 625 consecutive games, which ranks No. 10 all-time, fifth among active players, and is the third longest active streak. Marleau, who played for the San Jose Sharks until signing with Toronto prior to this season, has never missed more than eight games in a season, when he was a rookie in 1997-98. In the 18 following seasons, he missed 23 games.
Setting aside the 48-game 2012-13 season, Marleau has averaged 58.4 points. Since turning 23, his three-year average has never fallen to fewer than 50 points.
Players are often evaluated on how great they were at their peak, not just by their longevity. Even though Marleau is best known for the latter, he may have been among the League's top 10 players when he was at his best.
Video: TOR@WPG: Marleau turns back clock in Leafs debut
Marleau's finest season was 2009-10, when he finished third in voting for the All-Star Team, eighth for the Selke Trophy, and ninth for the Hart Trophy. He won a gold medal for Canada at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
Because anybody can have one hot season, a player's peak is often based on his three best consecutive seasons. From 2008-09 to 2010-11, Marleau scored 227 points (119 goals, 108 assists) in 240 games, which was tied with Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins for No. 14. Defensively, Marleau earned 130 weighted votes for the Selke Trophy as the League's best defensive forward, which ranked No. 11.
That level of defensive play highlights his most underrated quality: versatility. Marleau has been an effective two-way player trusted in all manpower situations, in each of the three zones, in every score situation, against any opponent, and with any linemates.
Since 1997-98, Marleau ranks second among active NHL forwards with 20,749:58 minutes at even strength, third with 5,122:28 on the power play, and 16th with 1,410:40 shorthanded.
From 2009-10 to 2016-17, Marleau started 2,643 shifts in the offensive zone and 2,770 in the defensive zone, for a balanced zone-start percentage of 48.83 percent. That ranks No. 14 among the 21 San Jose forwards to play at least 100 games in that time.
He also was trusted against top opponents while in San Jose. Last season was an exception, but from 2009-10 through 2015-16, modern quality-of-competition estimates ranked him first or second among Sharks forwards. In 2014-15, for example, the forwards Marleau faced most frequently among division rivals included Taylor Hall (38:22) and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (38:10) of the Edmonton Oilers;Daniel Sedin (37:36) and Henrik Sedin (36:58) of the Vancouver Canucks; Ryan Getzlaf (35:40) of the Anaheim Ducks; Sean Monahan (35:40) of the Calgary Flames; and Anze Kopitar (28:18) and Marian Gaborik (28:03) of the Los Angeles Kings, according to the data compiled at Natural Stat Trick.
Marleau contributes in many ways. Since 2006-07, he has won 51.4 percent of his face-offs, which ranks No. 37 among the 160 active players to take at least 1,000 in that time. In the shootout, Marleau has scored 15 goals in 46 attempts.
For two decades, Marleau has been a reliable two-way player who has been trusted in any game situation, and this season is no exception. He has been playing with Nazem Kadri and Leo Komarov on Toronto's tough-minutes line and has been one of the underrated keys to its early success.
Marleau has a three-year contract with Toronto, and if he maintains his consecutive-games streak, would end it with 1,739, putting Gordie Howe's record of 1,767 NHL games within reach.
Video: TOR@MTL: Marleau jabs in the rebound to tie the game