Chicago's Nick Leddy (left) and Nashville's Craig Smith (right) have been unsung heroes for their respective teams this season.
These days, the NHL has been blessed with a bevy of talented players throughout the league.
Naturally, it's the superstars that grace billboards and shine under the spotlights, but those are both advantages and disadvantages. The attention can't hurt, but there's no chance any of these guys could ever fly under the radar.
Sure enough, the ones that can (and do) are often not given the credit they deserve.
It doesn't matter to them whether or not they get the sponsorships, glitz and glamor. They just care about one thing, and that's doing whatever it takes to help their teams win hockey games.
They are the unsung heroes, the ones who will, ironically, get all the attention in this slideshow.
The Ducks may have had a rough season thus far, but there have been a few lone bright spots.
One of those has been the continued development of Cam Fowler, the defenseman they selected 12th overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.
Fowler proved his worth last year by sticking with the big club and putting up a respectable 40 points in his rookie campaign. He's quietly on his way to repeating the feat again with 13 points in 29 games this season.
He's taken on an even bigger role with the Ducks now that Lubomir Visnovsky is out with an injury. If Anaheim can turn things around, Fowler will be a major reason why.
Runner-up: Saku Koivu
Brad Marchand was a big part of the Bruins' Stanley Cup run a year ago, when he racked up 19 points in 25 playoff games.
Many did not expect the hot streak to carry over, but has it ever. Marchand's on pace for what could be the first of several 60-point seasons in his career, having amassed 20 points in 28 games this season.
Tim Thomas and Zdeno Chara get a lot of the attention in Boston, which is to be expected, considering one's a perennial Vezina candidate and the other a constant threat to win the Norris. Ditto for sophomore sensation Tyler Seguin, who's now on a tear of his own.
But that's OK, because it just gives Marchand some more time to go undetected. By the looks of things, that seems to bode well for him.
Runner-up: Rich Peverley
The Sabres drafted Luke Adam in the second round of the 2008 NHL Draft (44th overall). They walked away with a pretty good hockey player.
Adam has 19 points in 29 games this season, the first of what promises to be a long and rewarding career. He's been able to use his size and skill in the offensive zone, and he's been doing all of this without logging a ton of minutes.
He may not be a household name, but odds are, fans will learn just who this kid is and what he can do real soon.
Runner-up: Marc-Andre Gragnani
Curtis Glencross has done a nice job providing offensive support for a team that doesn't usually get much.
The Flames are one of the lower-scoring teams in the NHL, but they've been able to count on Glencross, who potted 24 goals last season and is currently on pace for 22.
The Saskatchewan native has 15 points in 27 games for Calgary and he's also thrown his weight around quite a bit, registering 35 hits in that same span.
It's not always pretty, but Glencross finds a way to get things done in the offensive zone.
Runner-up: Brendan Morrison
Chad LaRose has never managed more than 31 points in a season, a feat he's accomplished twice.
That's about to change, though, because with 17 in 31 games for the Carolina Hurricanes this season, the 29-year-old LaRose could break into the 40-50 point range by the end of the season.
He's been playing well, which is quite impressive considering the fact that he doesn't do this often and he's on a team that's been struggling mightily this year.
At just 5'10", you wouldn't think LaRose is much of a hitter. You would be wrong, and maybe his size is the biggest reason why he has the surprise factor. Whatever the case, Chad LaRose has been an important part of this Hurricanes team, make no mistake.
Runner-up: Tuomo Ruutu
The Minnesota Wild took Leddy 16th overall at the 2009 NHL Draft, and needless to say, it hasn't taken long for this kid to start doing damage at this level.
Chicago traded for him by sending Cam Barker to the Wild. They haven't looked back since.
Leddy appeared in 46 games last season, but managed just seven points during that stretch. This year, he's smashed that number, putting up 16 points in 29 contests. He's on pace for between 45-50.
He's really stepped in as an offensive catalyst on Chicago's blueline, which is important, because when Brian Campbell was traded to the Florida Panthers, we weren't sure who would replace that lost production.
Nick Leddy has more than answered the call. The only question left to ask is, how much longer does this kid go unnoticed? It's not easy playing in the shadows of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, that's for sure.
Runner-Up: Viktor Stalberg
Colorado's second round pick of 2009 is quietly rounding into form.
O'Reilly has 21 points in 30 games this season, just five shy of his previous career high, which he accomplished in both his rookie and sophomore years. Considering he's on pace for 58, I'd say O'Reilly's vastly improved.
He certainly showed glimpses of potential over those first couple of seasons, but is now doing that on a consistent basis. O'Reilly has a nose for the net and an excellent shot, not to mention plenty of hockey sense.
When you think about the Colorado Avalanche, names like Matt Duchene, Milan Hejduk and Paul Stastny usually come to mind. It may not be long before Ryan O'Reilly's name gets there as well.
Runner-Up: Kyle Quincey
Age tends to slow hockey players down, but don't tell that to Vinny Prospal.
The 36-year-old native of the Czech Republic signed with the Blue Jackets in the offseason after the New York Rangers opted to let him walk. Columbus was more than happy to give him a contract, and Prospal's rewarded them handsomely.
He's currently on pace for over 60 points, with 23 of 'em in 29 games for the hapless Jackets. That's impressive enough. It's simply mind-boggling how little attention he receives compared to some of the other productive veteran skaters in this league.
Prospal has shown he is still a quality playmaking forward at this level and will likely continue to do so until he decides to hang up the skates and call it a career.
Runner-up: Nikita Nikitin
I admit, I have a soft spot for the Long Island boys.
Not that Nystrom doesn't deserve to be on this list. All he's done is pot 10 goals in 23 contests for the Dallas Stars this season, an inconceivable development when the Minnesota Wild placed him on waivers a while back.
He was a 2002 first round pick, 12th overall in fact, but he certainly hasn't played like one for much of his career.
That being said, he's showing a lot of heart and giving the Stars everything he has to offer right now. Nystrom plays with energy and is agressive with the body. I don't think he'll score 30 goals this season, but he will continue to prove his worth at both ends of the ice.
Any way you slice it, Nystrom is one of this season's feel-good stories, that's for sure.
Runner-up: Sheldon Souray
Raise your hand if you thought Valtteri Filppula would have more points than Henrik Zetterberg.
He does, at least for now. Filppula has 25 points in 27 games for the Red Wings, who have played very good hockey this season despite having struggled at times.
Filppula's always had the skill set; he just never used it consistently. But he is now, and that's made the Wings a much more difficult team to play against.
He and Zetterberg have a ton of chemistry, and it's the former's excellent passing ability, combined with the latter's tendency to be in the right place at the right time, that's led to Filppula's rise in the stats columm.
Runner-up: Jiri Hudler
Potter's currently nursing an ankle injury that could keep him out of the lineup until Hanukkah, but he's done the Oilers proud in the 16 games he's played for them this season, registering eight points in that span.
Six of those points came on the power play, which is where he's most dangerous. Potter moves the puck well and can shoot it too.
He's always had the potential but was never given a chance by the other teams he played for (New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins). Their loss was Edmonton's gain, and Potter's been a big part of the Oilers' improved play this year.
Runner-up: Ryan Jones
The Florida Panthers have surprised plenty of folks this season, and Garrison is a big part of that.
If there's anything we've learned about this guy, it's that he's got an absolute cannon of a slap shot. It seems as though every time he lets one go, the puck's in the net the moment his blade makes contact.
Garrison has nine goals and 14 points in 29 contests for the Cats this season. His previous high score is 18, a mark he should easily eclipse (and likely smash). Even more impressive, he's a plus-12 and has been getting things done at both ends of the rink.
He's given Florida yet another quality defenseman, joining the likes of Brian Campbell and Dmitry Kulikov in that department.
Runner-up: Jose Theodore
OK, so he's not the 70-point/40-goal sniper he once was, but Simon Gagne has seemingly found a home in sunny Los Angeles, California.
He's struggled recently, having not racked up a single point in his last four contests, but Gagne has been otherwise solid in 2011-12, with 15 points in 27 games for the Kings.
Why? Because he's driving to the net more and has gelled with Anze Kopitar. He's also improved his two-way game and is a plus-three this season. That's important to note, because Gagne's been a minus player for much of his NHL career.
Gagne's not a star player anymore, but that doesn't mean he can't help a team.
Runner-up: Matt Greene
Thirty games into the season, the Minnesota Wild find themselves atop the National Hockey League.
It's difficult to gauge exactly what makes these guys tick, but whatever that may be, there's a strong chance that Matt Cullen's involved.
The 35-year-old Minnesota native looks quite comfortable playing in his home state, with 17 points in 30 games this season. He's on pace to finish with 47.
Cullen's not the flashiest player on the ice, but you can't argue with the results, that's for sure. He's managed to put up 40-plus points just about everywhere he's been over the last number of years. Cullen also happens to be strong in the face-off circle as well, winning approximately 56 percent of his draws over the last two seasons.
Runner-up: Pierre-Marc Bouchard
The Canadiens have themselves a steal in David Desharnais.
The 5'7" Quebec native went undrafted but not unnoticed, and the Habs have been rewarded for that. He currently has 16 points in 30 games for the Canadiens and could finish with over 50 in his first full NHL season.
Montreal brought him up from the AHL last year, and in 43 games with the big club, Desharnais collected 22 points, a performance that, no doubt, earned him a spot on the team for 2011-12.
I like the way this kid plays; he's got energy, vision and anticipation, which is good, because he certainly can't use his size (or lack thereof) to bull through defenses like some other skaters in this league.
Runner-up: Max Paciorrety
A fourth-round pick of the Preds back in 2009, Smith really did take an anonymous route up the hockey ladder (no pun intended).
Nashville's been more than happy to have the 22-year-old rookie aboard this season. He's been given the opportunity to make an impact at this level and has done so admirably, leading the Predators in points with 22 in 29 games, putting him on pace for an impressive 61 by year's end.
His combination of speed and skill is what makes the Madison, Wis. native tick. Smith's also shown he has the tools to be an effective part of the team's power play, scoring four goals and adding five assists with the man-advantage (nine points).
What I like about this guy is his work ethic and poise on the ice. Smith never seems to look out of place (except perhaps that one time he missed a wide-open net, an incident that became an overnight YouTube sensation), and he doesn't give up on the play; he always follows through, which is something you don't necessarily expect to see from a first-year skater on a regular basis.
Runner-up: Colin Wilson
When Adam Henrique first came up from the Devils farm team back on October 22, most people didn't think this move would have much significance, certainly not enough that we'd still be talking about it a couple of months later.
Henrique's living proof that, sometimes, conventional wisdom is simply off-the-mark.
I suppose we should've seen the writing on the wall. The potential has always been there: This guy's been a solid scorer since his Junior days with the Windsor Spitfires. In 2009-10, Henrique received the Wayne Gretzky Trophy, given to the OHL's playoff MVP. He racked up 25 points in 19 postseason games for Windsor that year.
He also managed to put up 50 last season, his first in the AHL.
But what he's doing at the next level, the NHL, has been nothing short of a surprise. Henrique finds himself second on the Devils in points with 20, a mark he's accomplished in no less than 25 contests. He's shown excellent vision and playmaking ability, and his performance has helped New Jersey stay afloat for much of this season.
Runner-up: Johan Hedberg
Before he signed with the Islanders last season, P.A. Parenteau was nothing more than a career minor leaguer.
Now, the Quebec native has proven himself, not only as a reliable, everyday NHLer, but a pretty good one as well. Parenteau notched 53 points in 2010-11, playing on a line with John Tavares and Matt Moulson, a feat that, in theory, should have put his critics to sleep.
Of course, they came out of the woodwork at season's end, determined that P.A. would not be able to produce similar results again and that he'd even regress.
His response? Twenty-two points in 27 games, a performance that has Parenteau on pace for 66 of 'em in 2011-12. Even more impressive, Parenteau's been doing this despite having shifted back and forth between the first and second scoring lines a number of times this season. He's shown he can play with anyone, whether it's Tavares or Frans Nielsen.
It's time we recognize Parenteau as the effective NHL player he's become.
Runner-up: Al Montoya
McDonagh's always been projected to become a useful defenseman at the NHL level.
Just ask the Montreal Canadiens, who inexplicably dealt him away to New York in a trade that, unfortunately for them, saw Scott Gomez become a member of Les Habitants.
The Rangers have given McDonagh a full-time job on defense this season, and he's done quite nicely, with 13 points in 26 games. He's also a plus-nine, the result of his solid work at both ends of the ice. He's become an important part of the Blueshirts, and his improved play has made their defense, and therefore their team, a better one.
Much like some of his other defensive partners, Ryan doesn't always get the credit he's due. It won't be long before that changes permanently.
Runner-up: Dan Girardi
Nick Foligno was drafted by Ottawa in the first round back in 2006 (28th overall) to be an offensive catalyst. It took him a while, but he's finally done just that.
With nine points in his last nine games and 19 in 30 this season, Foligno's given the Senators a dose of secondary scoring that's helped the team stay in the playoff race since the season opened.
His speed and hands are his biggest assets, and he's used them to his advantage.
Foligno may not be Jason Spezza or Daniel Alfredsson, but his stock will continue to rise as long as he continues to perform well.
Runner-up: Zack Smith
The Flyers signed Matt Read as undrafted free agent last year, and from the get-go, he began to show evidence that he was going to be a productive forward.
Read compiled 13 points in just 11 contests for the Adirondack Phantoms (AHL). He's been scoring on a consistent basis since his days at Bemidji State, where he racked up 143 over four seasons in the college ranks.
In Philly, Read's writing the next chapter of his career, and it's both elaborate and impressive. He's scored 11 times and assisted on eight occasions (19 points) in 25 matches. His strengths are his quick release and nose for the net, and Read hasn't had much of a problem exercising those abilities in 2011-12.
On a team that features names like Jaromir Jagr, Claude Giroux, Daniel Briere, Chris Pronger and Ilya Bryzgalov, it's not surprising that Read's gets lost in the shuffle. But at this rate, he may not be much of a secret in the near future.
Runner-up: Scott Hartnell
When the Coyotes lost Ilya Bryzgalov to free agency, everyone assumed they were done for. No one could envision that Phoenix would still be competing for a playoff spot, certainly not with Mike Smith between the pipes.
Going into this season, Smith had a reputation for being inconsistent. At times he's looked brilliant, and at other times, dreadful.
2011-12 has been a breakout year, and the Kingston, Ontario native has a record of 13-8-3, a goals-against average of 2.49 and a .923 save percentage. He's given the Coyotes a reliable starting goaltender, which has been the biggest key to their success over the last couple of seasons in the desert.
Smith's size and athleticism, combined with his puck-handling prowess, have allowed the 'Yotes to be more flexible and generate more flow in their attack, more so than when they had Bryzgalov, who generally didn't move out of his net.
Whether this keeps up or not, Mike Smith is undoubtedly Phoenix's unsung hero this season.
Runner-up: Radim Vrbata
Despite riding shotgun with Sidney Crosby for much of his time in Pittsburgh, Dupuis has never been able to put it all together on an everyday basis.
Until now, that is.
Dupuis ranks third on the Pens with 22 points (nine goals, 13 helpers), and his production has greatly benefited this depleted Pittsburgh team, which has been without the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and, most recently, Jordan Staal throughout the season.
He has a nose for the net, which is perhaps why he gels with Crosby, a supremely-gifted passer.
The perennial underachiever finds himself on pace for 59 points. Not bad for a guy who's never finished with more than 38 in a single season (2009-10).
Runner-up: Chris Kunitz
Ryane Clowe might be more well-known for delivering crunching hits, but his offensive abilities are pretty darn impressive too.
He may not be as unsung as some of the other guys on this list, but considering he's skated in the shadows of players like Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dany Heatley, Joe Pavelski and now Logan Couture (I'll even throw Jonathan Cheechoo, who won a Rocket Richard Trophy playing for the Sharks, in there for good measure), Clowe's scoring punch doesn't come with nearly the same amount of advertising.
That's unfortunate, because all he's done is produce, produce, produce, from the minute he arrived in San Jose. Clowe has put up 52 points or more in three of the four full seasons he's played for the Sharks, racking up as much as 62 (2010-11).
This season, Clowe has 18 points in 26 contests and is well on his way to finishing with between 50 and 60 again.
He's an excellent two-way hockey player, and it's time he got noticed.
Runner-up: Marc-Eduard Vlasic
Recently, the city of St. Louis, Missouri lost their "machine," Albert Pujols, to Southern California. What they should realize is, there's another upstart pro athlete in their city causing mayhem throughout the sporting world.
His name is Brian Elliott, the Blues unflappable goaltender who has all but surpassed Jaroslav Halak on the depth chart.
Could there be any bigger surprise in the National Hockey League this season than Elliott?
His stellar play in goal for the Blues has been nothing short of spectacular and mind-boggling, having recorded a 12-2-0 record (including four shutouts), a .950 save percentage and a microscopic 1.46 goals-against average.
It's no wonder St. Louis is right in the thick of things, fifth in the Western Conference, at this point in time.
The keys to Elliott's game are his outstanding lateral movement and his confidence, especially late in games. He's given the Blues a much-needed boost. It's hard to tell whether or not this will last, but Elliott certainly has the ability to ensure that it does. He's the real deal, that's for sure.
Runner-up: T.J. Oshie
Raise your hand if you thought Bergeron would have more points than Nicklas Lidstrom, Shea Weber, Zdeno Chara or Duncan Keith.
The oft-traded and inconsistent Quebec native has three goals and 19 helpers (22 points) in 29 games for the Lightning this season. He even had a positive plus/minus rating until very recently, and he's shown improvement in his two-way game.
Bergeron possesses an absolute rocket of a slap shot, but it's his new pass-first mentality that's helped him collect points these days. You don't get 19 assists in 29 games (sorry for the repetitiveness) by accident.
It seems, at long last, he's found a home in Tampa Bay, something the Bolts should benefit from. Bergeron's a feel-good story for a team that hasn't had much to take pride in this year.
Runner-up: Teddy Purcell
In 82 games with the Leafs last year, Bozak managed just 32 points.
With 18 through 27 contests in 2011-12, the 25-year-old is on pace to smash that mark with 52 points by season's end. It appears he's finally gotten into a groove in Toronto, which bodes well both for Bozak and the Maple Leafs.
He's a solid playmaker, the one Brian Burke thought he was getting when he signed Bozak as an undrafted free agent in 2009.
With all the attention Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul have received this season, Tyler's slipped under the radar. But give him credit, the guy can play, and as long as he continues to improve, should help the Leafs for quite some time.
Runner-up: Dave Steckel
There are a number of teams who'd love to have Cory Schneider as their starting goaltender, and this season, he's certainly shown why that's the case.
Schneider's 7-4-0 with a 2.02 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage. His recent efforts have helped the Canucks creep back into the playoff picture.
It's not easy playing behind a goaltender with a franchise tag, one who the team's invested several years and a lot of money into, but that's exactly what Schneider's been doing for a while now. He may be unsung at the moment, but he'll get his chance to shine elsewhere one of these days.
Runner-up: Jannik Hansen
Chimera's been a nice surprise for the Washington Capitals this season, racking up 17 points in 28 games. He's on pace to end up with around 50 of 'em at the end of the year.
His combination of size and speed make him difficult to play against, and it's a wonder he hasn't managed to use those assets to his advantage more often over the course of his NHL career.
The Caps may be struggling, but they will bounce back, and when they do, Chimera will be a big reason why.
Runner-up: Troy Brouwer
For a while, Kyle Wellwood's NHL career appeared to be all but finished.
He had left for the KHL last season and had not performed well there, then got picked up by San Jose midway through the year and, once again, failed to impress all that much.
Enter the Winnipeg Jets.
GM Kevin Cheveldayoff took a chance on the 28-year-old native of Windsor, Ontario and has been rewarded for that show of faith. Wellwood's contributed this season to the tune of seven goals and 11 assists (18 points) in 29 games for the Jets.
His confidence is higher than it's been in quite some time, which is a major factor behind the turnaround in Wellwood's game. He's always had talent, but being able to use it has been a different story. Hopefully, that part of his career is behind him.
Runner-up: Mark Stuart
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