NHL Power Rankings: The Top Support Players in the Game Today

Mark Della Posta@markdellapostaContributor IIIApril 21, 2011

NHL Power Rankings: The Top Support Players in the Game Today

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    Goalscorers and playmakers tend to get all the attention when a team is winning.

    They're capable of impacting the game in a way that few players can. They get fans out of their seats and they load up the highlight reels of all your favorite morning sports shows.

    When things are going well, the spotlight shines brightly upon them. Fans shower them with praise and adoration.

    They're the guys the fans pay to see, and they rake in the big paychecks because of it.

    Unfortunately, there are always some players that don't get the respect they deserve. Every successful team needs a certain player aside from the ones who fill the net on a nightly basis.

    They need players who dish out hits, dive in front of 100 mph slap shots, crash the opposing crease and simply sacrifice their bodies for the good of the team.

    They are counted upon to chip in offensively when the star players are in a slump and are called upon to bring some energy to the team when it's faltering. They're also routinely relied upon to shut down the best offensive players on the other team.

    Here are the most important support players in the game today.

10. Justin Abdelkader

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    We start our list with Justin Abdelkader of the Detroit Red Wings,

    Abdelkader is slowly but surely cementing his place within the Red Wings' organization. In only his second full year with the team, he has led the Wings in hits (among forwards), is a plus-15 and is over 50 percent on the draws.

    Abdelkader eats up valuable short handed minutes for Detroit and is emerging as one of the young guns, taking the place of guys like Draper and Malby.

    His 19 points may be slightly underwhelming, but consider that he plays on a stacked Red Wings lineup where ice time is tough to come by, especially on the PP.

9. Mathieu Darche

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    Mathieu Darche has been a revelation for Habs fans this season. After finally earning himself the first one-way contract of his career, Darche is rewarding his team for their confidence in him. In 59 games played this season, Darche has accumulated a respectable 26 points. He's a plus-14, has 73 hits and 30 blocked shots.

    What truly makes Darche an important support player for his team however, are the intangibles he brings to his game.

    Darche is fearless. On a nightly basis, he is willing to charge to the net and park his rear end directly in front of opposing goalies. No matter how much punishment he receives, he refuses to give up an inch.

    In a season in which the Habs have been handcuffed by injuries, Darche has been used on all four lines and has played well no matter the situation.

    He's been especially impressive in replacing the injured Max Pacioretty. When the faster and more talented power forward went down, Darche stepped in and preformed admirably. Aside from Pacioretty, he seems to be the only player capable of getting anything out of Scott Gomez.

    It's truly remarkable that a player making the league's minimum has had such an impact on his team.

8. Brian Boyle

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    Brian Boyle's contribution to the New York Rangers this season has been absolutely remarkable.

    In just his second year in the league, Boyle finished ninth among forwards in hits and second in blocked shots. He finished the year as a plus player, and had a positive takeaway/giveaway ratio.

    Boyle also managed to become a reliable source of offense for his team. He netted 21 goals this past year, up from six in his rookie campaign.

    In a season where the Rags were deprived of the services of Marion Gaborik, Ryan Callahan and Chris Drury for significant amounts of time, Boyle stepped up and showed that he is capable of being more than just a defensive/energy forward.

    With what he showed this season, he looks like he'll be a vital puzzle piece for the Rangers in the coming years.

7. Paul Gaustad

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    Paul Gaustad's offensive numbers don't exactly jump off the page. In his first six years in the NHL, Gaustad has hovered around the 10-goal mark. He also has yet to crack 40 points a year.

    Despite his offensive deficiencies, Gaustad has assumed an extremely important role on the Sabres roster.

    First, he is a monster in the faceoff dot. His faceoff percentage this season was a sparkling 59 percent. He has perennially been among the league's leader in this category, and is counted upon by his coach to win big time draws in key moments of the game.

    Gaustad is also leading forwards on his team in hits, with 128, and has blocked a very respectable 44 shots.

    His prowess in the faceoff circle, as well as his defensive abilities, have led him to be the most frequently used center on the PK (among Sabres forwards) and has earned him a spot on this list.

6. Steve Ott

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    When the Dallas Stars need someone to light a fire under the team, they turn to Steve Ott.

    Ott is among the NHL's most hated players in the league for good reason. The feisty forward is known for his questionable on ice tactics and unrelenting energy.

    This past year, Ott was able to accumulate a whopping 183 penalty minutes—including 11 fighting majors. Despite spending so much time in the penalty box, Ott was able to dish out 252 hits, good for seventh in the league.

    Ott has also demonstrated other facets to his game, other than those associated with his role as one of the league's top agitators. In two of the past three seasons, Ott has hovered around the 20-goal mark. This year, he chipped in four game-winning goals and two short handed goals.

    Sean Avery could learn a thing or two from this guy.

5. Darren Helm

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    Darren Helm is also part of the youth movement within Detroit's bottom six. He has become one of the key players, replacing the likes of Draper.

    In 82 games this season, Helm registered 128 hits, twice as many takeaways as giveaways, a plus-nine rating and a faceoff percentage well above 50 percent.

    Helm, at age 24, has become one of the more defensively sound forwards in the game. He leads his team in short handed ice time, and is counted on to defend some of the more potent forwards from around the league.

    He's also slowly becoming an important offensive contributor for his team, having increased his output every year since he's been in the league.

    As the years go by, I've got a feeling this guy is only going to climb higher on this list.

4. Cal Clutterbuck

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    Cal Clutterbuck has been a force to be reckoned with ever since he entered the league.

    In each of his first three seasons, Clutterbuck has eclipsed the 300 hit mark. That's right, Clutterbuck has roughly 1000 hits over the past three years.

    He has also been among his team's leaders in blocked shots by a forward in each of those seasons.

    The 5'11" forward has managed to increase his offensive production in each of those seasons, finishing this year just one shy of the 20-goal mark. What's even more impressive is the timeliness of his offensive production.

    Clutterbuck leads his team in road goals and is tied for second in game-winning goals. He has shown the ability to produce in pressure packed situations and in more difficult road games.

    For his unrelenting physical play and his ability to chip in the timely goal, Clutterbuck makes the list.

3. Max Talbot

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    Max Talbot is a very useful support player in the regular season.

    The playoffs, however, are where the Penguins' forward tends to shine.

    Over the past three seasons, he has been one of Pittsburgh's most impactful playoff performers. Since the 2007-2008 season, Talbot has been a top six scorer for his team. This is truly remarkable when you consider that he plays well under top six minutes.

    He is perennially among the teams leaders in penalty killing duties, and is relied upon to stir things up when things are going poorly.

    For his remarkable playoff performances over the years, Talbot cracks the top three.

2. Manny Malhotra

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    When Manny Malhotra went down due to injury near the end of the season, Canucks fans let out a collective "Ugh!"

    Malhotra has been one of the more important pieces on a stacked team that looks primed to compete for the Stanley Cup.

    When there is a key faceoff to be taken, Malhotra and his league-leading faceoff percentage above 60 percent are sent out on the ice. He leads forwards on his team in penalty killing duties, and is given the task of defending some of the top lines in the league.

    He's a plus player, has one of the better giveaway/takeaway ratios for a forward in the league and finished second on his team in blocked shots (once again among forwards).

    Without Malhotra in the lineup, Vancouver's chances took a major dip and the fans know it. Perhaps for this reason more than any other, Malhotra takes the second spot on the list.

1. Dave Bolland

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    Dave Bolland is the best support player in the National Hockey League today.

    I'll admit that Bolland's stats are the most impressive. He barely managed to score over a half point per game over the regular season, doesn't block many shots and has a weak faceoff percentage.

    He isn't overly physical or intimidating.

    At this point, you may be wondering why he makes the list at all, let alone finishes in first place.

    Well, the fact is, Bolland just shuts players down and is a playoff monster. Using his speed and defensive prowess, Bolland morphed into the top defensive forward in the world during last year's second season.

    Against the Canucks, he managed to make the Sedin brothers look like they've never played with one another.

    Joe Thornton, who was having his best playoff to date last season, was driven absolutely out of his mind by him.

    In the Cup Finals, Bolland was able to limit Flyers captain to two points.

    Aside form his defensive abilities, Bolland has also shown a capability of turning on his offensive game in the spring. In 22 games last year, he accumulated 16 points. In 17 games the year before, he scored 12 points.

    If Bolland was around this year, his team's first-round series against Vancouver could have looked a lot different.