In the NHL, the stars get all the attention. But in reality, every successful team in the history of the NHL has been that way because of contributions from players who don't get as much of the spotlight.
When you think of the Red Wings and all of their Stanley Cups, you think of Nicklas Lidstrom
, Steve Yzerman
, Brendan Shanahan
and even Brett Hull
. But would they have won those Cups without The Grind Line? Can you even name the members of The Grind Line? Probably not, but without Kris Draper
, Kirk Maltby
and Joey Kocur
and later on, Darren McCarty
, those teams wouldn't be the same.
That's what it takes to win in this League -- contributions from surprising sources or from guys who are just playing better than expected.
Here are eight players I've seen this year who impress me not only as someone who played goaltender in this League, but as someone who watches them every night as a broadcaster/analyst:
Sheldon Souray, D, Dallas Stars
Defense - DAL
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 4 | PTS: 6
SOG: 21 | +/-: 6
-- Here's a guy who was a reclamation project after being banished in Edmonton. He can still play. People were saying he can't possibly play in the new NHL … that was garbage. Not only does have that big shot everyone knows about, but he's more mobile than people realize. He's really stabilized the Stars' back end. He's totally underrated.
Richard Park, F, Pittsburgh Penguins
-- He's always good. He's just a good pro. How did the Islanders let a guy like that go? He's versatile, cheap, a leader and a true pro. The Penguins value him and he's a bargain at $550,000 on a two-way deal. They can play him on the third line, fourth line, power play, penalty kill. He's a very skilled guy and a steal for Ray Shero
Eric Belanger, C, Edmonton Oilers
-- He's been very good and in the same way Park has. He's been terrific on faceoffs, winning 60.3 percent of them. Last season the Oilers won 44.2 percent of their draws, worst in the League. With Belanger in the fold, they've won 50.2 percent. He's also been excellent on the PK. The Oilers are killing 91.4 percent of penalties, fourth in the League, after finishing 29th last year at 77 percent. He's a detailed-oriented, three-zone, high-character player.
Alexander Burmistrov, C, Winnipeg Jets
-- He might be the best underrated player in the league. He's the best player on the Jets so far. He has an unbelievable hockey sense, high skill set. He can make plays in traffic or open ice. The kid has no fear. He's still only 20, but here's a guy where if he's on the ice, he jumps off the ice when you're watching.
Kari Lehtonen, G, Dallas Stars
-- As impressed as I was with him in Atlanta, he wasn't at his best. He gave us samples of how good he could be. But he wasn't at his best because everyone knows he wasn't committed off the ice. He's grown up a lot. Give the Stars credit. They gambled on him and won. They've given him the tools, the resources to get better, and he's been amazing. He's very big, very mobile, very athletic too. Right now, my three Vezina finalists are him, Nikolai Khabibulin
and Jonathan Quick
Christopher Higgins, LW, Vancouver Canucks
Left Wing - VAN
GOALS: 3 | ASST: 2 | PTS: 5
SOG: 22 | +/-: 0
-- Ah, the Higlet. He's playing the way he played when he came in with Montreal. I'm seeing a lot of what he's was doing then. He looks fast and quick. He's jumping into holes, he's getting in on the forecheck, battling along the walls. He's got his confidence. He's committed again, he's in great shape. He's got his game back.
Dmitry Kulikov, D, Florida Panthers
-- Kuli High Harmony. I can't tell you how much he and Brian Campbell
have helped Florida's power play. They had 4 power-play goals and a shorthanded goal against Tampa. That's off the charts. He's way more patient with the puck. He doesn't panic. He's great in transition because he can skate and pass it. He's good in his own end, too. He can walk the line, take two steps laterally and make a play in the offensive zone. Kulikov and Campbell have been game-changers.
Andrej Sekera, D, Buffalo Sabres
-- He's been nice -- plus-6, steady as she goes. He skates well, plays within his comfort zone, doesn't try to do too much and you can match him up with anybody. He can block shots. He does everything. I'm a big fan of his.