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Western five who do the most with the least

by Brad Holland
Some players get all the love.

You know the ones -- the first-round draft choices, the touted European phenoms, the young prospects with pedigree, performance and potential. They come into the League with a certain amount of expectations, and they are given every opportunity to deliver on that promise.

You won't find many of those guys on this list.

Instead, this is about overcoming. The players on this list were late-round picks -- or undrafted -- or they were skaters who took a slightly different route to the NHL. Others had to overcome injuries or setbacks early in their careers, or they found themselves the victim of a numbers game and just couldn't seem to find a foothold with their respective NHL club.

Now that they've made it, these are the players who take what little they've been given and return a huge dividend on their team's investment. They realize the preciousness of every shift, and they treat it in such a way that they're sure they make their impact in what little time they have.

This list represents the best of's list of players from the Western Conference who did a lot with a little -- the skaters who had 15 minutes of ice time or less per game and fewer than 20 starts for goaltenders who were able to make the biggest impact on their shift, their team, and the League as a whole.

David Backes, St. Louis Blues, Key stat: 240 hits -- The St. Louis Blues and coach Andy Murray deployed David Backes like a heat-seeking missile last season. The second-year forward racked up an incredible 240 hits –fifth in the League -- in only 14:40 of ice time per game.

A relative unknown heading into the 2007-08 season, things have changed dramatically for Backes in a very short time. He will be called upon to take on a larger roll with the developing St. Louis Blues, helping to add grit to a lineup with such emerging offensive prospects as Brad Boyes, Patrik Berglund, David Perron, Erik Johnson, T.J. Oshie and the rest of the "new Blues."

Erik Ersberg, Los Angeles Kings,
Key stat: .927 save percentage -- The Los Angeles Kings saw seven goalies share minutes during the 2007-08 season, after five suited up during the 2006-07 season, but things likely will be different in 2008-09.

With the strong play exhibited by the rookie Ersberg and veteran netminder Jason LaBarbera last season, the Kings finally may have found stability in their crease. In only 14 appearances last season, Ersberg had a modest 6-5 record, but his .927 save percentage was anything but. His best appearance came in a 40-save shutout of the Ottawa Senators on March 6, 2008, followed closely by a 39-save 2-1 shootout loss to the Anaheim Ducks on March 26.

Jiri Hudler, Detroit Red Wings, Key stat: 42 points -- Unfortunately for Hudler, who put up 97 points in 2005-06 with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League, he is stuck behind some pretty good players on the Red Wings.

Despite only 13:10 of ice time per night as a third- and fourth-line forward, the diminutive Hudler (who stands only 5-foot-10, 182 pounds) still managed 13 goals and 42 points in 81 games. He was better in the postseason, totaling 5 goals (2 game-winners) and 14 points in 22 games in even less time on the ice -- only 11:35 per game. With a return on an investment like that, Wings coach Mike Babcock may do his best to find more minutes for Hudler this season.

Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks, Key stat: 207 shots on goal -- "Little Joe" Pavelski (not to be confused with "Big Joe" Thornton), slips under the radar on first glance at the Sharks' roster -- Thornton, Milan Michalek, Jonathan Cheechoo, Evgeni Nabokov, Patrick Marleau, Jeremy Roenick, Dan Boyle and Rob Blake all jump off of the stat sheets. But Pavelski quietly has emerged as a very dangerous offensive player on an extremely good team despite playing just 14:06 per game last season.

He made the most of it, however. Pavelski fired 207 shots on net in 2007-08 and scored on 19 of them. He also had 21 assists for 40 points in only his second full NHL season. The former University of Wisconsin Badger standout is extremely deceptive with the puck, and takes after Thornton in that he is adept at seeing the ice and finding the open man, but he isn't afraid to put it on net himself if nothing develops.

Marek Svatos, Colorado Avalanche, Key stat: 26 goals -- More impressive than Svatos' 26 goals, perhaps, was the fact that the 2001 seventh-round pick got most of them playing on the Avalanche's third line, receiving an average of 13:39 of ice time per game.

Overshadowed by Milan Hejduk, Wojtek Wolski, Ryan Smyth and Andrew Brunette, Svatos still managed to carve a fine season for himself in most offensive categories. He had 6 game-winning goals, a plus-13 rating and 140 shots. The addition of Darcy Tucker won't help his minutes any, but as he proved last season, Svatos is capable of making an impact with whatever he's given.

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