The 10 Best NHL Players You Might Not Know About
As fun as it is to talk about NHL players that are on everybody's radar like Sidney Crosby and Pavel Datsyuk, sometimes it's more fun to go off that beaten path and chat about the player that maybe everyone doesn't know about yet.
Maybe it's due to a lack of exposure in the media, or it could simply be that the player in question hasn't played in nearly enough NHL games to become more of a household name. The talent is there, but the guy isn't going to find his way onto an All-Star ballot—at least not yet.
Only the most overaggressive "I had his sweater first"-types have his jersey at this point, but that doesn't make him any less great or fun to watch. Nor does the lack of a buzz factor—the kind that players like Vladimir Tarasenko and Mikael Granlund generated for themselves while playing overseas.
Shining the spotlight on players that just don't get a whole lot of love from media outlets despite playing some seriously good hockey is what this list is all about. Feel free to create a little buzz for other overlooked players in the comments section.
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The Tampa Bay Lightning have quite the habit of picking up un-drafted, unwanted and undersized players and turning them into NHL regulars.
While Tyler Jonhson still has a long way to go before he can be mentioned in the same breath as Martin St. Louis, his play as a professional—both in the AHL and NHL—indicate that he could become a noteworthy scorer at some juncture.
After igniting the score sheet (per TheAHL.com) for two straight seasons in the minor leagues, the Lightning finally gave Johnson a shot. While he hasn't scored in his last five games, he's still managed six points through ten games played.
If you're looking for an electric skater with a phenomenal stride, look no further than Johnson.
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Andrei Loktionov was never going to break through to the NHL with the LA Kings—not with the depth at center the team has and considering that he just couldn't seem to put the pieces together on the wing (per mayorsmanor.com).
He reportedly asked for a trade out of California (per Puck Daddy) and a week later found himself in New Jersey.
Since the deal, the former fifth-round selection has posted 11 points in 20 games played and was developing a nice chemistry with Ilya Kovalchuk before the winger went down with an injury. Kovie hitting the IR hasn't slowed Loktionov down one bit though.
He has three assists over his last five contests and is generating offensive chances with his creativity with the puck and vision.
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And they say Russians don't like the rough stuff.
Alexei Emelin does his best every shift to single-handedly change that perception about Europeans. He throws bone crunching checks whenever there is even a mild opening and forces opponents to keep their heads up at all times.
He is currently 17th in the NHL with 108 hits, right alongside guys like Drew Doughty, Dustin Brown and Shane Doan.
Emelin is also an excellent agitator—just ask Evander Kane (per hockeyfights.com).
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You don't hear Boston Bruins fans mourning the rise and fall of Tim Thomas these days, and there are two reasons for that.
The first is Tuukka Rask, who at the very least should be a nominee for the Vezina Trophy this year, if not the winner.
The second is his backup, Anton Khudobin. His story should sound mildly familiar to fans who followed Rask over the last few seasons. The outstanding backup stands on his head when called upon but is still stuck behind an incumbent All-Star caliber netminder.
Now Rask is Thomas, and Khudobin is Rask. It's kind of like Freaky Friday, except with more goaltenders and less Lindsay Lohan (which is never a bad thing).
Khudobin has appeared in 11 games this season, winning eight of them while maintaining sparkling averages. His .929 save percentage is outstanding, as is his microscopic 2.07 GAA. Toss in a shutout for good measure, and this is a kid on the rise.
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If you talk to Minnesota Wild fans and ask them who the Calder Trophy should go to, there won't be much hesitation before they answer: Jonas Brodin.
The 19-year old has been absolutely outstanding during his rookie campaign, and if no one mentioned the fact that he has zero years of NHL experience, no one would think that was the case. He's played in all situations and is the guy most responsible for Ryan Suter finally finding his game.
Brodin won't win the Calder because people vote based on stats, and that isn't where he shines the most at this point. Still, on a nightly basis he's been one of the best players for the Wild and has provided a remarkably steady hand for a kid his age.
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Before the Columbus Blue Jackets went out and got Marian Gaborik (per ESPN.com), they were a bit short on pure finishers. The closest they had was Cam Atkinson, who has battled an ankle injury (per ESPN.com ) all season.
Ankle sprains are tough to deal with for players who don't rely on their agility and quickness for points. For guys like Atkinson, that's the bread and butter going bad and moldly, respectivly.
Despite the struggles, he's posted 11 points in 24 games and has really come on as of late— presumably because his ankle is becoming less and less of an issue. Atkinson has four points in his last five games and has fired off 16 shots in that same span.
With the addition of Gaborik, he finds himself on a speed kills line with Mark Letetsu and Matt Calvert. And boy are they fun to watch.
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If you don't get the chance to watch many Columbus Blue Jackets games and find yourself randomly watching one, the first question that will pop into your head after a few minutes is "Who the h-e double hockey sticks is number 11?"
The answer is Matt Calvert, and he's one of the best kept secrets in the NHL.
He may never win a scoring race or play in an All-Star game, but Calvert is one of the funnest players to watch in the league. He reminds me a lot of Darren Helm, minus the constant injury woes. He's wicked fast like Will Hunting is wicked smart, is a tenacious puck pursuer in all three zones and rarely is caught out of position.
He's a lock for 20 goals next season and could break out for even more in the future.
You heard it here first: The Columbus Blue Jackets are a good hockey team.
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When Ryan Suter left the Nashville Predators and the dust cleared, everyone was wondering the same thing: Who is going to replace him and play alongside Shea Weber?
Would Ryan Ellis finally cash in on his high promise, seize the moment and never look back? Would Jonathan Blum continue to improve and cement his spot alongside the perennial Norris candidate?
Nope, and no sir.
It was Roman Josi who put all the pieces together at the right time, claiming the most coveted vacancy in the NHL, and it is Josi who has never looked back. He now has the look of a top-pairing NHL defender and will only continue to improve.
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Like Jonas Brodin in Minnesota, Brenden Dillon has cemented himself as a cornerstone for the Dallas Stars despite his age and limited experience.
After spending the 2011-2012 season sharpening his game in the AHL, Dillon has emerged in 2013 as one of the better shutdown defenders in the league. He plays huge minutes against the opposition's top lines and brings a physical brand of hockey that agitates and controls.
While Dillon may only have six points in 36 games so far this season, it's in his own zone where he works his magic.
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Brandon Saad has been one of the hottest players in the NHL lately and is cashing in on every ounce of his potential with the high-flying Chicago Blackhawks.
After starting off the season cold, Saad has taken off lately, posting 17 points in his last 16 games. Considering he only has 21 total points, that should tell you how good he's been over the last month and change.
Saad was considered a sure-fire first rounder in 2011 before his stock slipped considerably during the last half of the season. He fell to the 'Hawks at 43rd overall and is already looking like one of the biggest steals of the draft.