NHL Power Rankings: Each Team's Unsung Hero from 2010-11 Season

Scott WeldonCorrespondent IJuly 3, 2011

NHL Power Rankings: Each Team's Unsung Hero from 2010-11 Season

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    Everyone knows the team's leading scorer or the goalie you can't win without. Those guys win accolades all season long.

    There are other players that are important to a team's success that don't get the attention they deserve. Often these players are doing a job that doesn't generate a nice clean statistic you can point to. Or they are doing a job that people tend not to appreciate.

    This slideshow is an attempt to throw out some attention to the players who play a useful role on their team but don't get talked about much.

    This is a look at every NHL teams' unsung hero for 2010/11.

1. Anaheim Ducks: Lubomir Visnovsky D

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    The Anaheim Ducks made an inspired run to even get into the playoffs this year. While captain and star player Ryan Getzlaf was out, winger Corey Perry took up the slack and became the league's most valuable player.

    Veteran Teemu Selanne and youngster Bobby Ryan made huge contributions to the offense, while goalie Jonas Hiller kept the team in games when the defense faltered.

    Lost in all this seems to have been the significant contributions of offensive defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky. The Slovakian skater came to LA in a deadline day swap in 2010 with the Edmonton Oilers that saw Ryan Whitney D and a 2010 sixth-round pick go the other way.

    Visnovsky has been the power play quarterback on a team that tied with the San Jose Sharks with the second best power play in the league last year (23.5 percent).

    The Oilers on the other hand experienced a huge dip in power play success, from 17.3 percent to 14.5 percent, after Lubomir left. They went from being 18th in the league to 27th. 

    Visnovsky is one of the better pure offensive defensemen in the league right now, and some call him one of the best in NHL history. Visnovsky has made a key contribution to the success in Anaheim that doesn't always seem to be noticed.  

2. Atlanta Thrashers: Johnny Oduya D

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    The praise early on in Atlanta last year went to the scoring stars on defense: Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom. Andrew Ladd got praise for a break-out offensive year. Goalie Ondrej Pavelec had a great year in nets for the Thrashers that also drew some raves.

    Quietly and carefully Johnny Oduya has taken on the thankless task of trying to be the shutdown defenseman in Atlanta. Playing third pair minutes with Zach Bogosian, he has bumped former first pair defenseman Ron Hainsey to the bottom of the defensive depth chart.

    Oduya isn't the quintessential shut-down defensive defenseman. At 6'0" and 200 pounds, he is not exceptionally large or nasty. He is simply a good skater and quality puck mover who plays his position well. Oduya may be the new model for an NHL defensive defenseman, if we truly believe hooking and interference are penalties of the past.

    This good skater has never shown any offensive upside, but he is as useful as anyone in the league at moving the puck out of his own zone quickly and competently.

3. Boston Bruins: Patrice Bergeron C

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    It is tough to find an unsung hero on a Stanley Cup champion team. By the end of the playoffs every player who has done anything usually has been heaped with praise.

    Admittedly Patrice Bergeron is a little on the nose when you are searching for a Bruin star. Still as the playoffs went on there was constant noise about Tim Thomas, Zdeno Chara, Nathan Horton before and after the injury, David Krejci, Brad Marchand, Rich Peverley, even Mark Recchi and Dennis Seidenberg seemed to be getting written up.

    The best Bruin skater for the last couple of years now has been Patrice Bergeron. He is a player who has made his way back from a devastating concussion.

    He was on the verge of being a point a game offensive star for the Bruins before the injury. His offensive skills are still there, just muted. He is one of the best defensive forwards in the game today. 

    His 56.6 percent success rate in the faceoff circle meant he was ninth best in the NHL last year. He was fifth in total faceoffs won. He helped the Bruins maintain an 84.4 percent successful penalty kill through the playoffs. He worked to help shut-down the Vancouver offense that only managed to score eight goals in the seven-game final.

    Patrice Bergeron probably does get his praises sung, but I'm going to say it didn't happen often enough last season.  

4.Buffalo Sabres: Jordan Leopold D

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    Thirty-year-old Jordan Leopold has had what might charitably be called a fair career since joining the NHL from the University of Minnesota back in 2002/03.

    Leopold was a trade deadline day acquisition by the Penguins last year. Buffalo then signed him away on a three-year $3 million a year contract. He joined a Buffalo defense that had been depleted by age and free agency.

    Always a second or third pair defenseman, Leopold trailed only last year's rookie of the year Tyler Myers D in total ice time played in Buffalo. He lead the team playing 23:19 minutes per game. He was the second defenseman on the power play and the penalty kill for Buffalo, while playing 18 minutes a game at even strength.

    Leopold embraced his role as a leader on the Buffalo defense. He was second in blocked shots on the team behind only Steve Montador D.

    Jordan will probably take on a lesser role next year with the acquisition of nasty shut-down defenseman Robyn Regehr D from Calgary and power play quarterback Christian Ehrhoff D.

    He is likely to give the team better quality minutes when he reverts to his more natural third or fourth defenseman role.

    That said Jordan stepped up and made a valuable contribution to a Buffalo team that allowed itself to get startlingly thin on defense last season.   

5.Calgary Flames: Mark Giordano D

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    The Calgary Flames at one time maintained a cult whose sole purpose was to praise the under appreciated role players in the line-up. A green hard hat used to be handed out to the Flame who worked the hardest in the playoff games during their 2004 Stanley Cup run.

    This unsung hero thing is a very similar type of award.

    Mark Giordano had a very tough road to travel to make it on the Calgary Flames as key member of the team. Now that he is there his contribution is extraordinary. The Flames have signed him for five years at $4.02 million, so I guess that has to count for a little singing of his praises by management.

    Whenever the Flames have allowed him to play Giordano has been a quality puck moving defender. From day one he was a half-point-a-game player who moved well with the puck and moved the puck out of the zone with alacrity.

    Last year marked his second full season in Calgary. He played 82 games and scored 43 points, which lead all Calgary defenseman by a considerable margin. Second in team scoring among defenseman was Anton Babchuk with 27 points. Jay Bouwmeester D, the $ 6.68 million a season man, produced 24 points in 82 games.

    Giordano lead the flames with 193 blocked shots. On a team that lives to hit he was third behind Regehr D and Corey Sarich D with 134 hits.

    This is probably a year late calling Mark Giordano an unsung hero in Calgary, but he is currently the best defenseman on the team and rarely is mentioned when non-Calgarians discuss Calgary defense. 

6.Carolina Hurricanes: Eric Cole RW

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    The 31-year-old Cole provided some useful secondary scoring in Carolina last year. His 26 goals and 52 points in 82 games tied him for fourth on the team with Jussi Jokinen LW.

    Eric Cole was a huge performer for Carolina ever since they drafted him in the third round in 1998. Injury and age have effected his consistency. A power forward with a damaged vertebra in his neck can be expected to modify the way he plays the game.

    Cole is currently an unrestricted free agent and a measure of how unsung he has become may be evidenced by the difficulty he is experiencing getting signed again in Carolina. He finally signed with the Montreal Canadiens for four years and $18 million total. 

    Cole looks like he can still make a contribution at the NHL level though the fear of another injury that may prove career threatening likely scared off other teams. Still he did a good job in Carolina last year and deserves some regard for that job.   

7.Chicago Blackhawks: Michael Frolik LW

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    Acquired from the Florida Panthers in the Jack Skille exchange at the trade deadline, Frolik played as a top six forward during the playoffs getting five points in the seven game loss to Vancouver.

    Frolik only managed three goals and nine points in his 28 games in the regular season with Chicago. His season as a whole was disappointing with 11 goals and 27 assists over 80 games.

    That unsung playoff performance might be an indication he is ready and capable of taking on that top six forward role in Chicago. How unsung he is will be shown by the Blackhawks willingness to sign the RFA this offseason.  

8.Colorado Avalanche: Ryan O'Reilly C

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    Ryan O'Reilly has taken on the thankless role of third line checking center at the tender age of 20. The addition of premiere checking center Jay McClement from the St. Louis Blues has left Colorado with two top quality face-off men who can kill penalties together or as the leaders of separate units.

    O'Reilly has the virtue of having some slowly developing, offensive skills, whereas McClement is strictly a checker. O'Reilly is a bull-dog on the puck and lead the Avalanche with 72 takeaways and a +49 takeaway to giveaway differential.

    The +49 puts him just a little behind current league leaders like Jonathon Toews C +63, Bryan Little C +58, and ahead of perennial defensive leaders like Selke trophy winner Ryan Kesler C +44, Louis Ericksson +37 and Pavel Datsyuk +33.

    The underappreciated O'Reilly was one of the "league's" best checking centers last year.   

9.Columbus Blue Jackets: R.J. Umberger C/LW

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    The career checking forward was signed away from the Flyers to be the Columbus Blue Jackets' first line center. It's not a role he was suited to, and yet he took it on. He has scored more than 23 goals a season during his three years in Columbus and had 57 points last season for a career high, while playing as a winger more often than not.

    Umberger was a workhorse for the Jackets last year, leading all forwards in ice time. He lead even Rick Nash in time on ice per game at 19:12 to 18:55 minutes. 

    This was a result of R.J. being second choice behind Samuel Pahlsson on the penalty kill and second behind only Rick Nash on the power play.

    Umberger does it all in Columbus, also handing out 114 hits and blocking 70 shots, again first among Columbus forwards. The dedicated Umberger is unlikely to see his offensive numbers improve at the age of 29, but he is still ready to be a dedicated checking winger with offensive skills for years to come.      

10.Dallas Stars: Trevor Daley D

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    Trevor Daley just signed a six-year $3.3 million a year extension with the Dallas Stars in December this year. The mobile defender could be a Star until the end of the 2016/17 season.

    Daley has played first pair minutes on what has been a good, but inexpensive, Dallas defense. Quick and skilled with the puck Daley's strength is getting the puck and moving it out of his zone.

    Trevor isn't a hitter, but he is a huge shot blocker (124, 3rd on the team). He helps out on the power play and the penalty kill in Dallas.

    Trevor Daley is unlikely to be any team's best anything. He is, however, good at almost everything that has to do with hockey. He seems in some ways the vision of the perfect, skating, post-obstruction defenseman.       

11.Detroit Red Wings: Niklas Kronwall D

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    Detroit is a team that likes to give credit to and celebrate its role players. That is one reason they always seem to be able to produce top quality checkers. Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader would likely be unknown if they played on any other team.

    This year for Detroit I would like to honour defenseman Niklas Kronwall as Detroit's most unsung hero from last season.

    You always play in Nicklas Lidstrom's shadow if you play in Detroit. That said, Kronwall had gotten some play as the third of Detroit's big three defenseman behind Lidstrom and Rafalski. When Detroit won the cup in 2008, Niklas Kronwall was certainly getting his share of attention.

    The last three years, though, that seems to have faded to the point where I am ready to again call him an unsung hero in Detroit.

    Kronwall was second in ice-time for the Red Wings this year and scored almost a half point a game. The nasty hitter was only sixth on the squad this year in hits. Still there is a question of quality. When Niklas Kronwall hits you it is more traumatic than when Darren Helm hits you.

    Kronwall was a shut-down guy for Detroit last year, playing against the opposing teams best forwards. He and Brad Stuart and Lidstrom shared the penalty killing duties.

    Kronwall lead his team in blocked shots (129).

    The retirement of Brian Rafalski will probably lead to another surge in Kronwall's power play time, points and the regard he is given in Detroit.    

12.Edmonton Oilers: Andrew Cogliano C

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    When you are the worst team in hockey for two years running let's face it, your players should be unsung. Part of the problem in Edmonton is that players have been jammed into roles on this team that they don't seem naturally suited to.

    A prime example of that is small fast center, Andrew Cogliano. A man who looked like an offensive force in junior is having trouble finishing at the NHL level. He scored 18 goals in each of his first two seasons. Since then, however, he has been asked to kill penalties and be a checker more than he has been used on the power play. The last two seasons have seen him score 10 and 11 goals while playing in all 82 games yet again.

    The University of Michigan star and 25th overall pick from 2005 has accepted the role as a checker and attempted fill it. His penalty killing time and the fact he plays every game made him the Oilers leader last year in total minutes played among the forwards.

    Generally, 5-on-5 he plays third line minutes. Some smaller players excel in this checking role, though, Cogliano seems to be struggling with it. The worst part of his defensive game has been in the face-off circle, where he lead the team in face-offs taken with 1,108, while winning only a miserable 41.6 percent of them.

    Cogliano has manfully taken on the checker role in Edmonton, but it doesn't seem to dovetail with what he is best at. Hopefully his dedication, effort and natural speed wins him a spot among the top six forwards. His lack of finish may relegate him to a fourth line job in the future.      

13. Florida Panthers: Mike Weaver D

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    The easiest choice for unsung hero in Florida should have been checking center Marty Reasoner. He started the season on fire (well for Marty Reasoner) with seven points in his first nine games. Reasoner was one of the Panthers leading scorers going in to December.

    For the purposes of this slideshow, however, that early season offensive spurt gained the checker a little too much praise to earn kudo's as an unsung hero last year.

    Instead, I choose another Dale Tallon defensive addition.

    In the offseason Tallon picked up the leading minute defenseman from the leagues best penalty kill from the year before (St Louis Blues: 86.8 percent).

    Weaver played in all 82 games and lead the Panthers in time on ice and in short handed time on ice per game. Weaver helped the Panthers stop being a team that gave up a league worst 34.1 shots against per game. Now they are a team that gives up an admittedly still bad 31.8 shots against per game.

    The penalty kill jumped from a 23nd overall, 79.4 percent last year to sixth best in the league 84.6 percent.

    That is not all Mike Weaver, but he made a huge contribution to the improved defensive play of the Florida Panthers.

    No matter how good his defensive prowess, he is guaranteed to be unsung throughout his career because of his complete lack of any offensive game at all ( GP:82 G:2 A:11 PTS:13).  

14.Los Angeles Kings: Jarret Stoll C

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    Jarret Stoll is a player who could have the distinction of being the best player ever selected in the second round by the Calgary Flames (2000 46th overall) and the Edmonton Oilers (2002 36th Overall).

    Stoll has the virtue of being one of the faster skaters in the NHL, while at the same time possessing one of the hardest point shots in the game.

    An early career concussion short-circuited what was threatening to be a good offensive career. Instead, he became a checking center who also could play the point on the power play. He has become a considerably better checking forward than some who have been shunted into that job.

    Stoll was the fifth leading face-off man in the league last year with a 57.7 percent success rate on 1310 faceoffs. He was tenth in total wins.

    Stoll was seventh on the LA Kings in power play time and eighth in time logged on the penalty kill. He was third on the team in hits and third among the forwards in blocked shots.

    His 20 goals and 43 points are reasonable totals for a face-off wizard who plays a checking role. Five-on- five, Jarret Stoll plays 13:09 hard minutes a game.  

15. Minnesota Wild: Cal Clutterbuck RW

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    Cal Clutterbuck has one of the great hockey names of all time. On a team that sometimes seems to have too many role players and not enough raw talent, Cal is another.  

    He lead the league in hits the year before last with 336. Last year he lead with 318. Two years ago he had a league record 356 hits. Hitting a mobile opponent on skates effectively during play is a skill and Cal is the master of it.

    Cal plays second to third line minutes and has managed to produce nearly a third of a point a game in his career. He had 19 goals last year and 34 points in 76 games last year; both career bests.

    Clutterbuck was more of a power forward in junior hockey. It would be nice for his career and Minnesota if he could play more of an offensive role for the Wild, but he still contributes with his physical presence.      

16. Montreal Canadiens: Hal Gill D

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    Thirty-six-year-old Hal Gill was never the most fleet of foot player in his prime. At this point in his career he may just be the slowest man in hockey, counting the goalies. Somehow, on a Montreal team known for quick skaters, he has carved out a niche.

    Gill played in 75 games last year. Injuries to key players saw him play the fifth most minutes on the team. The injury ot Josh Gorges had Gill leading Montreal in ice time on a penalty kill that improved from 12th in 2009/10 to seventh last year.

    Hal paired with youngster P.K. Subban and seemed to be the solid base that Subban could operate from. There seemed to be a quality mentorship going on between the veteran and Subban, which is more intriguing just because their styles are so completely different.

    A player who seemed destined to be released at the end of his contract has made himself valuable enough to stick in Montreal for another year as he signed on May 31st for another year at $2.25 million.       

17. Nashville Predators: Jerred Smithson C

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    When your team's leading scorer during the regular season is Sergei Kostitsyn (GP 77, G 23, A 27, PTS 50) and in the playoffs is Joel Ward (GP 12, G 7, A 6, PTS 13) you are neck deep in unsung heroes. Throw in defensemen Kevin Klein  and Shane O'Brien, who lead Nashville's fifth best penalty kill (85 percent) in short-handed ice time, ahead of stars Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, and you suddenly realize the Nashville Predator line-up is all unsung heroes.

    Back-up goalie Anders Lindback came into the line-up to fill in for Pekka Rinne when he went down for arthrosocopic surgery in December. He ended up starting 18 games and playing in 22. He put together an 11-5-2 record with a .915 save percentage and 2.60 goals against average. He at least deserves an honourable mention for his unsung contribution to the team this year.    

    The best of that bunch for me, however, is checking center Jerred Smithson. Jerred was first among team forwards in time spent killing penalties last year and third overall behind Klein D and O'Brien D.

    He was sixth in the league in success in the face off circle at 57.4 percent for 1006 face-offs. He tied Selke trophy winner Ryan Kesler and was just ahead of runner up Jonathon Toews and playoff Stanley Cup winning faceoff wizard Patrice Bergeron in the league rankings.

    Smithson spends his 14:50 a game playing a useful defensive role and taking most of the Predators' key faceoffs. The thirteen points in 82 games is never going to get him noticed, but the face-off ability makes him important in Nashville.     

18. New Jersey Devils: Patrick Elias LW

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    The Devils have suddenly gone from being "The" selfless team to a collection of stars. Though with Brodeur in decline and Parise out injured, last year they may have been more accurately described as a team of star: Ilya Kovalchuk. 

    The unsung heros don't seem to be of the same caliber that they had in place when the Devils won cups. There aren't the Jay Pandolfos, Ken Daneykos, Bobby Holiks, Sergei Brylins or even Randy McKays there to support the teams star(s).

    Lost in the Kovalchuk hype last year was the actual team leader in scoring, 35-year-old Patrik Elias.

    The talented Czech winger is the New Jersey Devils best second-round pick of all time. He has only ever played for the one team for his entire career.

    Elias had a troubling bout of hepatitis but has generally been a healthy contributor in New Jersey. Last year was no exception.

    Elias may not be getting the press right now, but New Jersey management is still singing his praises to the tune of $6 million a year for two more seasons.

    Patrik was relegated to the second line last year and still provided timely offense. He lead all Devil forwards on the penalty kill and was behind only the aforementioned Kovalchuk on the power-play.

    Hopefully, Elias gets a little more regard next season because the Lady Byng candidate won't be around in the NHL much longer.      

19.New York Islanders: Frans Nielsen C

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    The Islanders were another team like the Oilers or the Panthers where most of the players were rightfully enough unsung. New York like Florida improved their penalty kill last year.

    Twenty-seven year old Danish center Frans Nielsen lead all Islander forwards in ice time on the penalty kill. He has to take some of the responsibility for the improvement in the kill from 76.3 percent (29th Overall) in 2009/10 to 83.2 percent (12th Overall) last year.

    Nielsen had his best offensive year on the island with 44 points in 71 games. He was sixth in team scoring.

    The speedy Nielsen is an excellent positional player. He has shown himself to be a valuable defensive forward. He had 66 takeaways last season with only 33 giveaways. The +33 differential was second on the team, behind only the meteoric Michael Grabner (+39).     

    He is a good play-maker but 50-55 points probably represents his top end offensive potential.

    Nielsen may have carved him out a spot as a checking forward. His inability in the face-off circle (46.2 percent on 965 face-offs) makes it almost impossible for him to lock up an NHL spot as a top quality checking "center."

20.New York Rangers: Artem Anisimov C

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    Going unsung on the Rangers is a little like trying to be unnoticed in Toronto. Even young defensive defenseman Marc Staal or speedy checking winger Ryan Callahan come in for considerable praise and surprising levels of coverage.

    I have read stories venerating middle weight goon/energy player Brandon Prust. Sean Avery, Wojtek Wolski and Alexander Frolov could have started their own magazines with stories about nothing but the 16 goals they scored last year.

    Normally I like a good penalty killer or face-off man for this unsung hero position. For the Rangers I have had to settle on jack of all trades Artem Anisimov.

    The Rangers were a middle of the pack offensive squad last season (13th overall: 231 goals). Anisimov is a lanky center with some good skills who contributed offensively last year.

    He was talented enough to earn power play time and kill penalties last season, but he was the sixth choice among Ranger forwards for both jobs.

    Despite that and his 16:12 minutes per game, he was fifth on the team in scoring. More impressive was the fact that he was second on the team in even strength points (36), behind only Brandon Dubinsky C. His size and skill with the puck allowed him to score points when the going is toughest; five on five.

    Anisimov was also tough on the puck. His tenacity was reflected in his +30 takeaway to give-away differential, which tied him with team leaders Ryan Callahan RW and Dubinsky.



21.Ottawa Senators: Craig Anderson G

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    Once a team cleans house the way the Ottawa Senators have there are very few heroes left, sung or unsung. Erik Karlsson at the tender age of 21 led the entire Senator team in ice-time per game last year.

    Despite the acquisition of prohibitively expensive offensive defenseman Sergei Gonchar, Karlsson lead the team's defensemen in scoring by a healthy margin. His 45 points made him the second leading scorer on the team behind only Jason Spezza.

    In a Canadian city that leads to press and praise. You couldn't stop the press or the fans from singing about Erik.

    The man who seemed to come in and rescue this desperate team from complete inadequacy was trade deadline acquisition Craig Anderson. Colorado was so down on Anderson that they let their 2009/10 saviour go to Ottawa for goalie Brian Elliot and handed their starting job to perennially troubled starter Petr Budaj G.

    Anderson blew into Ottawa and managed an 11-5-1 record in 18 games started, with a 2.05 GAA and .939 save percentage. These are numbers that blow away anything Elliot or Budaj did, well, ever.

    Craig Anderson won't be an unsung hero next year. The 30 year old was quickly signed by the Senators for four years at $3.1875 million per year. If he doesn't perform up to his career best standards, expect him to quickly bounce from the unsung hero category onto the worst player for the money list. It is a hard business trying to be a hockey hero in a Canadian market.

    He could even join ex-Senators Patrick Lalime and Pascal Leclaire in the dog-house for goalies who don't deliver in the nation's capital.          

22. Philadelphia Flyers: Andrej Meszaros D

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    Chris Pronger was only healthy enough to play in 50 regular season games last year and wasn't really healthy enough to play in the three playoff games he got into. Pronger out left a huge gap on defense for the Flyers to fill.

    One of the players to perform most ably was 25-year-old Andrej Meszaros. He lead the team in ice time in the playoffs. He was fourth on the team in ice-time all year long but was only a minute and a half a game behind team leader Kimmo Timonen.

    Meszaros was the third defenseman on the penalty kill and second on the power play, though, the Flyers favoured forwards on a point on the power play.

    Andrej managed a respectable 32 points. He was second on the team in hits (189) and third in blocked shots (139).

    Meszaros has good size and reasonable speed and, at age 25, is still developing as a player. The unsung Slovak to may prove to be an excellent pick-up for the Flyers, even at $4 million a year for another three years.        

23. Phoenix Coyotes: Keith Yandle D

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    All the praise in Phoenix tends to go to coach Dave Tippet and former goalie Ilya Bryzgalov. And very little seems to seep out and lap over Shane Doan and 39-year-old Ray Whitney. Beyond that the field is wide open in Phoenix.

    Keith Yandle was the third leading scorer among NHL defenseman last year.....I know!

    He had six more points while playing in one more game than the hyped Dustin Byfuglien in Atlanta.

    Yandle, still just 24, lead the Coyotes in ice time per game while seasoned veterans like Adrian Aucoin, Derek Morris and Ed Jovanovski watched. He has yet to be signed, though, he is still a restricted free agent.

    Yandle is a skater and a puck mover but not much of a hitter. He was second on the team with 103 blocked shots. 

    Yandle played in his first All-Star game this year and is evolving into one of the better strictly offensive defensemen in the league. He quarterbacked the Coyote power-play and was by far the leader in power-play ice time.  

24. Pittsburgh Penguins: Brooks Orpik D

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    Brooks Orpik is one of the premiere shut-down defensemen in the league. Nasty and mobile, he has been a key component in the past on successful Penguin teams. A pretty complete lack of offensive skills often see him go unnoticed.   

    He has found himself demoted to the second defense pairing in Pittsburgh. The development of Kris Letang as an offensive force from the back-end, and the signing of the more mobile Paul Martin, pushed Orpik down the depth chart.

    Orpik still plays most of his minutes against the opposing team's star players. Those minutes will generally be remembered by all involved as unpleasant. 

    At age 30, the tough style of game he plays is starting to take a physical toll. He missed 22 games last year due to injury. Despite that, he can still have a devastating impact when he does play. He lead the team in hits with 194 in 63 games. When Orpik is hitting you you are getting quality along with the quantity. He hits often and he hits hard.  

25. San Jose Sharks: Douglas Murray D

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    Not to be redundant, but Douglas Murray is another defenseman who hits hard and hits often. At age 31 that life style may be taking even a bigger toll that it has on Brooks Orpik. Still Murray is a respected defensive defenseman who hits and blocks shots.

    His ice time shows he is starting to grade into being a No. 4 or No. 5 defenseman with San Jose. The departure of Ian White to Detroit may see him back solidly in the second pairing.

    Murray is an able penalty killer but gets a lot of his ice time, as does Brooks Orpik, making hockey miserable for the opposing team's stars. That is usually merciless to a player's +/- numbers. Luckily Murray plays on a team that scores enough to keep him at +5.  

26.St Louis Blues: Alex Pietrangelo D

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    There was enough player movement this year in St. Louis to let Alex Pietrangelo win this one by default. 

    The two top defensemen in St. Louis got moved at the trade deadline. Pietrangelo playing his first full season with the Blues is now the No. 1 defenseman on the depth chart. He turned 21 in January and not long after that he was the man in St Louis.

    Pietrangelo was the only defenseman in St Louis to play more than 65 games for them this year. He was fifth on the entire team with 79 games played. He and Barret Jackman formed the number one pair on the penalty kill. This year he was always the number one defenseman on the power play.

    Pietrangelo lead the team in blocked shots with 121. He was the leading offensive defenseman with 43 points.

    Next year Alex will be expected to move from unsung hero to actual hero. A failure to do so on another under-performing Blues team might see him downgraded to goat. From there it's not too far to following former team-mates Erik Johnson and Eric Brewer out the door.  

27. Tampa Bay Lightning: Adam Hall RW

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    Thirty-year-old checking winger Adam Hall had a good year on a Tampa Bay team better known for its scoring stars than defensive prowess. 

    Hall led the team in time spent killing penalties last year. He led the team in hits (152) and made himself useful in the face-off circle winning 55 percent of the 655 face-offs he took. His play earned him another year in Tampa Bay.

    Hall played in all 18 Tampa Bay playoff games and had a goal and four assists. 

    Adam Hall has no offensive game to speak of but still makes a contribution to the Lightning. 

28. Toronto Maple Leafs: Keith Aulie D

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    It's hard to be an unsung hero on the only hockey team based in Canada's biggest city and media capital, Toronto. At some point every Maple Leaf gets a song written about him.

    The guy who doesn't seem to have hit the radar too hard yet and is making a great contribution, is 22-year-old 6'5" defensman Keith Aulie. Picked up from the Calgary Flames at the end of January in 2010 in the Niklas Hagman, Matt Stajan for Dion Phaneuf deal, Aulie looked like a throw in. 

    However, as Toronto started denuding themselves of veteran defenseman the younger players were asked to step up and play bigger roles. With Francois Beauchemin back in Anaheim and Tomas Kaberle off to win a Stanley Cup in Boston, it was up to the Carl Gunnarssons and the Keith Aulies to take up the slack.

    From Feburary on Aulie was playing most games and almost 33 shifts per game. His 23 minutes a game put him up there with Luke Schenn on the defensive depth chart at year end. Keith brought a big physical component to an already nasty Leafs defense and still managed to be -1 in the 40 games he played last year.

29. Vancouver Canucks: Dan Hamhuis D

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    Dan Hamhuis played on the second pairing of defensemen this year for Vancouver. He was the No. 1 choice for the penalty kill and on the second power play unit.

    Hamhuis wasn't a leader in any statistical category for the Canucks. He had 23 points in 64 games. Still he is a steady defender who skates well and can move the puck out of his own zone in a hurry.

    His absence after laying a hit on Milan Lucic (see above) in the Stanley Cup finals seemed to place a huge strain on an over-taxed Canuck defense. If his presence didn't attract much notice his absence seemed to.

    Dan at age 28 is signed to play in Vancouver for five more years. He might be their unsung hero for all that time.   

30. Washington Capitals: Jason Chimera RW

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    If John Carlson hadn't gotten quite so much press the last couple of years for the leadership role he has taken on, in last year's playoffs and this year's regular season, he would be the perfect candidate to be Washington's unsung hero. Doubly so when you look at the Capitals' brand new commitment to team defense.

    Instead, I'll say checking winger Jason Chimera was the Washington Capitals unsung hero in 2010/11.

    The 32-year-old Chimera was voted the fourth fastest player in the league last year in a survey of 318 NHL players taken before the All-Star game.

    Chimera gives the Capitals a good experienced checker to pair with young center Marcus Johansson in that role. Jason has a chance to help young Marcus learn the defensive side of the game.  

    His contract with the Capitals has one year left on it.