3 Most Important People for Each NHL Winter Classic Team
The 2012 NHL Winter Classic will not be a boring game. It will be an all-out, balls-to-the-wall game full of key players. Fans can be sure that not a single man will treat this just like any other contest. Some players will go above and beyond the call of duty and will truly step up their intensity.
Let's look at the three most important players (not named Henrik Lundqvist) for each Winter Classic team.
3. Brandon Prust, New York Rangers
Brandon Prust will fight. The real question is, who will be his partner?
Prust's numbers aren't jaw dropping, but he is second in the NHL in fights and has dropped the gloves against the Flyers three times in two games this year. In the first game against the Flyers this season, Prust had two fights against Zac Rinaldo and Wayne Simmonds, respectively. He also had one against Marc-Andre Bourdon in the second match. It is safe to assume that he will find another challenger in the most important regular-season game of the year.
Brandon Prust will be a great initiator for his team when the puck drops. And he won't just fight—he will be one of the most fierce players on the ice.
3. Wayne Simmonds, Philadelphia Flyers
Although he has fought three fewer times than team leader Zac Rindaldo this year, Wayne Simmonds will most likely be the one to accept Prust's challenge due to his clear animosity with Prust.
Simmonds has a good offensive upside that really elevates his game beyond picking fights and agitating. He is a great spark plug for this dynamic Flyers team and will definitely be a huge factor.
2. Dan Girardi, New York Rangers
Dan Girardi is the cornerstone of the Rangers' defense. He has 91 blocked shots in his 36 games played this year, putting him fifth in the league. Not only does Girardi throw himself behind 100 MPH shots, but he can also put up points. Girardi currently has 13 points this year—he always elevates his offensive numbers in games that count.
Dan Girardi is an important player because we know that he will be playing well. His main contribution is raising the game of his teammates.
2. Peter Laviolette, Philadelphia Flyers
It was recently announced by goalie Ilya Bryzgalov that he would not be starting in the Winter Classic, allowing Sergei Bobrovsky to take the stage.
The move is questionable and could send a bad message to the team, or maybe the Flyer's head coach knows something we don't and the move could pay dividends.
Lavy is going to have to play his lines well and psych the team up enough to take control of the game. This big move better pay off, or he could find his way into the position of scapegoat to the Flyers' faithful.
1. Michael Del Zotto, New York Rangers
In his rookie season, Del Zotto put up a very respectable 37 points in 80 games. The problem with those points though was that he was bad in the back end. In that same season, he was a plus/minus of minus-20. Then, in his sophomore campaign, he was limited to 47 NHL games and had to play the rest of the season with the Connecticut Whale to improve on defense.
It worked like a charm. Now that Del Zotto is back in the big league, he has managed to put up 22 points in 36 games and has a plus/minus of plus-25. He plays hard, especially when it counts.
It may sound difficult to stay under-the-radar as a young, offensive-minded defenseman for the New York Rangers, but he has. Now that he will be in the spotlight, hardcore and casual fans alike will witness Del Zotto's skill.
1. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers
Claude Giroux is officially an NHL star. Putting up 45 points in 32 games is no easy feat, which is why he is second in the league in points. Henrik Sedin, first in the league, has played just seven more games than Giroux.
There is no question that Giroux is Philadelphia's most talented goal-scorer; in fact, he may even be the best in the entirety of the NHL, but he is also clutch with 38 playoff points in 40 contests in his short career. Giroux will show up and will very likely put up more than one point against the New York Rangers.
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