Why Rangers' Ryan Callahan Is the Most Underrated Player in Eastern Conference

Jeremy FuchsCorrespondent IIISeptember 21, 2012

Why Rangers' Ryan Callahan Is the Most Underrated Player in Eastern Conference

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    Go down a list of the top players in the Eastern Conference and Ryan Callahan isn't likely to be on it.

    Guys like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Alexander Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos will be on the top of that list.

    Callahan might not be found.

    But that's a mistake. Callahan has established himself as the leader of the New York Rangers and one of the better players in the Eastern Conference.

    Why is he the most underrated player in the Eastern Conference? Read on to find out. 

Scoring

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    Ryan Callahan isn't the top scorer in the league, but he does put the puck in the back of the net.

    Last season, he scored 29 goals in only 76 games. He has 105 in his six-year career.

    The key about Callahan is that he score from the circle or he can bang in front and score on rebounds and deflections. He's not limited to just his slap shot. In fact, many of his goals come from creating his own chances through hard work.

    Callahan is versatile; he can play on top offensive lines or on checking and grinding lines. Either way, he's going to provide you with a good amount of offense.

    His goal totals continue to climb; if he can stay healthy for 82 games, there's no reason why he couldn't score more than 30 goals. 

    He's a threat, and whether it's on the first or third line, he has to be accounted for on the ice. 

Power Play

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    We just discussed Callahan's scoring prowess, but let's get a bit more specific.

    Last season, he scored 13 goals on the power play, which was good for fifth in the league and was tied with Alexander Ovechkin. It was ahead of such luminaries as Evgeni Malkin, Steven Stamkos and Ilya Kovalchuk.

    In fact, Callahan has a knack for scoring goals on the man advantage. In the last two years, he's scored 23 power play goals. In his career, 34 of his 105 goals have come on the PP. That's 32 percent.

    Callahan excels on the power play because he's willing to go in front and make his presence felt. He scores on rebounds and deflections, and he creates opportunities for others. He can work on the half-wall or in the high slot.

    That kind of versatility is always welcome on the man advantage and many teams wish they had Callahan to help boost their special teams. 

Grit

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    There's no doubting that Ryan Callahan is a gritty player.

    He constantly sacrifices his body, sometimes to his own detriment. Last season, he had 88 blocked shots, which was third in the league last year for forwards. He's had 246 blocks in the last three years, which averages out to 82 a year.

    Rangers fans are accustomed to Callahan throwing his body in front of hard slap shots. It's led to injuries, including a broken ankle from a Zdeno Chara slap shot.

    Callahan is more concerned with making the play than over his own safety. It's admirable.

    He also loves to throw the body. Last season, he had 271 hits, good for fifth in the league among forwards. He's had a remarkable 780 hits over the last three season, averaging 260 a season in that time.

    As we mentioned, Callahan has no regard for his body, and he's willing to throw hits as well as take them. 

    He's a grinding, physical player who gets in your face. He goes all out, all the time, and inspires his teammates to keep grinding.

Defense

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    Callahan is excellent on the penalty kill, and the grit we mentioned earlier certainly plays a role in that.

    He's probably the best penalty killer on the Rangers, and is a huge reason for their success. Consider this: Last season, the Rangers had the fifth-ranked penalty kill in the league. The year before that, it was the tenth-ranked penalty kill. In 2009-2010, the Rangers had the seventh-ranked penalty kill. In 2008-2009, the Rangers had the best penalty kill in the league.

    Callahan is obviously a huge part of that success. He's quick at the top of box, and is willing, as we mentioned, to block shots.

    He uses his stick to disrupt passing lanes and will hustle towards the wall to get to loose pucks.

    Callahan is constantly used on the penalty kill and is one of the better ones in the league. His prowess on the PK is one of the reasons he was selected to be a part of the US Olympic Team in 2010 in Vancouver.

Leadership

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    Callahan has had a pretty distinguished career for a young guy.

    At 24, Callahan was named as one of the alternate captains for the Rangers. At 26, he was named captain, the fifth-youngest in team history.

    Callahan leads by example. He gets in front of shots. He races to pucks. He puts in body in danger. All in the name of the team. 

    Brad Richards, who is an alternate captain on the team, is a huge fan of Callahan's leadership [via the New York Post]:

    But all our guys follow him, and we follow him because night in and night out, his level of effort is always going to be the highest of anybody on the ice for both sides.

    Think of it, at his age, to be captain of an Original Six team, and in New York City; he handles it all properly, the way he represents himself and the team. He’s done an unbelievable job as our leader.

    The Rangers have cultivated an identity as a hard-working, lunch pail team, who will do what it takes to win. Callahan is at the heart of that. He embodies their identity to the fullest.

    Callahan is not a flashy player. He's not likely to make highlight reels. But he's the driving force behind a Rangers team that finished first atop the Eastern Conference standings and were two games away from reaching the Stanley Cup Finals. He's the heart and soul of one of the better teams in hockey. It's clear he deserve more recognition.