One Player from Each NHL Team the Opposition Hates Playing Against
Superstars aren't born every day, and some aren't healthy enough to be on the ice all season. Sometimes, superstars aren't even the hardest player on their own team to plan against.
Every team has someone on their roster that opponents hate to play against. In some cases, it's because they don't want to be embarrassed, while others don't want to get hit into the third row.
What follows is a list of the players on each roster that teams hate to go up against.
There's a lot of talent on the Ducks to choose from. But opponents probably don't mind the dumb penalties taken on a regular basis by Ryan Getzlaf, and most young players in the league today should consider it an honor to skate with a legend like Teemu Selanne.
But Bobby Ryan has the ability to undress a couple defensemen and a goalie like few players in the game. He's a creative player with the puck, and nobody wants to be on the wrong end of a SportsCenter highlight.
He's the biggest player in the game and also one of the most physical forces in the league, but what makes Zdeno Chara to hard to play against is that he's also a quality defenseman. With his stick, his radius is nearly the same as the faceoff circle.
And nobody wants to be between his league-record slapshot and the net, either.
Patrick Kaleta has only scored five goals this year, but he's just crazy enough that you can never discount the chance that he'll knock someone into the third row or start a fight with three people in one period. He's a wild card, and those are impossible to plan against.
The Flames have been up and down over the last few years, but the one constant for them has been between the pipes: Miikka Kiprusoff. There have been issues scoring, poor personnel decisions and defensive breakdowns, but the one guy who could steal a game has stolen plenty during his solid career.
Earlier in the year, when the Canes were struggling, teams took their shots on Eric Staal because they knew how rare the opportunities are to beat the Carolina captain. He's a fierce competitor who can carry the team, and he's been making up for all those missed opportunities from the season's first half in the last few weeks.
Chicago is a team that has become a pick-your-poison scenario for opponents the last few years. Whether it's Patrick Kane weaving through traffic, Patrick Sharp sneaking a game-winning goal into the net or Jonathan Toews (when healthy) dominating one-on-one battles, there's a lot of talent to gameplan for with the Hawks.
But the one guy that's nearly impossible to handle is Marian Hossa, who's finally healthy this year and is back to being a point-per-game player. Not many players in the league can do the things Hossa can with the puck in traffic, and he's as good in every zone as anyone in the game.
When he's healthy, Matt Duchene is a game-changer. His combination of good hands and exceptional speed are rare in the league, and the Avs will have to write a pretty big check this summer to keep him in Denver moving forward.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Let's be honest, everyone loves playing the Columbus Blue Jackets.
But the Jackets' one game-breaker is their captain, Rick Nash. If there's one player teams need to watch for on the ice, it's him.
The Stars have a few players that put up solid numbers, but Jamie Benn is the future of that franchise. He's young, big, physical and can score from anywhere. If the Stars can lock him up long-term this summer, he'll be the top name on the scouting report in 29 cities for the next few years in Dallas.
Detroit Red Wings
Pavel Datsyuk is either a jedi or a magician, but you can rest assured that at least once per night he'll do something that makes even fans in another city say "wow."
There isn't anyone in the game today, and haven't been many in the history of the game, that control the puck the way he does.
The team's two No. 1 overall picks might steal headlines, but it's Jordan Eberle who has stolen the show this year. He's tied for ninth in the NHL with 70 points and is tied for seventh with 32 goals through Sunday. He isn't the biggest guy on the list, but quietly, Eberle has become one of the most dangerous scorers in the league.
Kris Versteeg might not light it up every night, but there's always a chance that he'll make a move that keeps a defenseman in highlights for a couple weeks.
Los Angeles Kings
Jonathan Quick is the only reason the LA Kings are in the playoff chase in the Western Conference. The Kings have had issues scoring all season and continue to fight to get out of ranking last in scoring this year in the league. But all year, Quick has been dominant and should receive plenty of Vezina consideration for his play this year.
Cal Clutterbuck is one of the biggest hitters in the game today. No matter if the Wild are in first place after their hot start or falling apart down the stretch, the one player you can count on bringing it almost every night is Clutterbuck (and his mustache).
How about this comeback? After Zdeno Chara nearly snapped him in half last year, Max Pacioretty has responded by scoring 30 goals for the Habs this year. Quietly, he's enjoying one heck of a season and is one of (read: the only) the scoring threats in Montreal every night.
Shea Weber is a beast and plays every aspect of the game well for the Preds. Heading into restricted free agency this summer with his wingman, Ryan Suter, set to be unrestricted, this is an intriguing time for the folks in Nashville, who did everything they could at the deadline to go for broke to sell their two veteran leaders that the organization is committed to winning.
New Jersey Devils
Zach Parise is fun to watch, but undoubtedly a nightmare to play against. He plays every zone well, is a badger in the corners and can get to top speed with the puck as quickly as anyone out there. The Devils are facing a tough summer with their captain hitting unrestricted free agency, as there will certainly be a number of teams interested in not having to play against him any more.
New York Islanders
Much like Columbus, most teams have enjoyed playing the Islanders for the last few years. But the one guy nobody wants to skate against is Matt Martin, who has 331 (!) hits already. He's as physical as it gets in the game today and rarely misses a hit.
New York Rangers
There aren't many goalies on this list because frankly, there just aren't many that can steal weeks on the calendar. But Henrik Lundqvist is one of the best in the game today and can be unbeatable when he's right.
How about a point-per-game defenseman who's only 21 years old? Erik Karlsson has been a revelation in Ottawa this season, ranking seventh in the NHL with 71 points through Sunday's action. He's lightning-quick up the ice and has great touch with the puck; teams don't like gameplanning against four forwards, but that's what Karlsson makes his opponents do.
Scott Hartnell was hard enough to play against when he was just chirping at opponents and bringing a consistently physical, high-energy game to the rink every night. But now that he's added 35 goals to his game this year, teams have to be as concerned about his offense as they do his elbows, hips and shoulders. Claude Giroux is a special player, but Hartnell's a handful.
The biggest concern for any team heading to the desert is the 18-hole distractions that could pull players' thoughts away from the ice. The Coyotes are a scrappy team that has been as well-coached as any the last few years under Dave Tippett, but there really isn't one player out there that makes opponents cringe.
Teams haven't been asked to fear Sidney Crosby in 14 months, but the season being put together by Evgeni Malkin is incredible. Despite missing a handful of games this season, he still leads the league with 88 points in only 64 games and could probably engrave his name on the Hart Trophy while scoring a game-winning goal.
San Jose Sharks
Joe Thornton continues to be a physical presence in San Jose's lineup every night in spite of the team around him evolving into one that might be playing golf in mid-April this year. Doug Wilson's roll of the dice last summer hasn't worked, but he still has one of the better captains in the league.
St. Louis Blues
David Backes is a big, physical captain who lets his hips/shoulders do the talking for him on the ice. He personifies the attacking approach that has led the Blues to the top of the NHL this year and never gets cheated along the boards.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Teams fear Steven Stamkos.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Leafs have problems. They've been inconsistent up front, their scoring has come in waves and their goaltending has been a nightmare.
But opponents can count on one thing when they skate against Toronto: Dion Phaneuf will hit. The timing of the hits might not always be ideal, and he might not always be in perfect position, but he'll get his money's worth.
They're both dangerous with the puck and make anyone else in a Canucks sweater on the ice with them better, but when they're together, there's an undeniable bond between the brothers that makes them nearly impossible to deal with.
The numbers might not be as big as they once were, but the move he made on Duncan Keith on Sunday is why teams hate to face The (Formerly) Great Eight.
Alex Ovechkin still has an incredible burst in him and can finish as well as anyone in the game; the problem in DC this year is that those moments of brilliance have been too few and too far between. But there's always the chance that he'll do something special, and that unpredictability is now cause for fear.
A "defenseman" listed at "280 pounds" is hard to deal with, but when he decides to join the rush and unload a missile from anywhere on the ice, Dustin Byfuglien is a guy that's nearly impossible to predict. He's physical, has no problem chirping at opponents (ask Mr. Luongo) and has a heavy shot.