Ranking the NHL's Top 10 Unsung Heroes

Brad Kurtzberg@@sealshockeyContributor IAugust 3, 2013

Ranking the NHL's Top 10 Unsung Heroes

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    Sure, everybody knows who Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin are. Those guys are stars. However, there are plenty of other players who are less heralded but still make consistent contributions to their team's success. This list will examine the NHL's top 10 unsung heroes.

    These are the players who don't often make headlines but are acknowledged by scouts, coaches and their peers as effective and valuable hockey players. Most fans don't think about them all too often—unless, of course, they play for their favorite team.

    Players on this list do one or more things very well consistently but don't get a lot of media attention. Sometimes it's because they play in non-traditional hockey markets or they excel at something like penalty killing or defensive hockey, which won't garner many headlines.

    Feel free to add any players who you feel belong on this list. Just indicate why you feel your candidate belongs and what he does well to belong on the list.

10. Kari Lehtonen

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    Goalie Kari Lehtonen holds a distinction that no other NHL goalie will ever match: He is the only netminder to lead the Atlanta Thrashers to a playoff berth.

    When healthy, the 29-year-old Finn has played quite well for some very mediocre teams in Atlanta and Dallas without ever being mentioned as one of the league's better goalies. He has won more than 30 games in a season three times during his career and his career save percentage is a very respectable .914.

    In order to be considered as an elite goalie, Lehtonen needs to have some postseason success. It would be interesting to see how he would do playing on an elite team.

9. Fedor Tyutin

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    Scouts would say there isn't much about Fedor Tyutin's game that is fancy, but those experts who have watched him up close understand his value to his team.

    TSN's Scott Cullen noted how much ice time the Russian defenseman receives and called him "underrated."

    While Tyutin has never scored more than 34 points in any NHL season, he plays a steady game. Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch described him as "Mr. Consistency."

    Tyutin was a valuable part of the Blue Jackets' turnaround last season. He can play a physical game and help out on the second power-play unit. He also provides leadership in the Jackets dressing room.

8. Ray Emery

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    Ray Emery has overcome controversy, a tough season in Russia and serious injuries to become one of the NHL's unsung heroes.

    Because he didn't play in the playoffs, many fans forget that he had a 17-1-0 record during the 2012-13 regular season with a .922 save percentage and an impressive 1.94 GAA.

    When Philadelphia Flyers center Claude Giroux found out that the Flyers signed him as a free agent this summer, he was excited. "He's an unreal guy...a good teammate and a great goalie," Giroux told Tim Panaccio of CSN Philadelphia.

    Emery's career nearly ended due to a serious hip injury in 2009-10. His recovery seems to have given him a more mature outlook on life and his NHL career, according to Panaccio.

    Emery finally seems to be realizing the promise he showed earlier in his career with the Senators. He is now one of the NHL's unsung heroes.

7. Matt Martin

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    Matt Martin may not be known by many fans outside of Long Island, but the hard-working Windsor, Ontario, native has led the NHL in hits in each of the past two seasons. That's pretty impressive considering he averages only 11:54 of ice time per game.

    Martin plays solidly in his own zone and scores the odd goal. He also inspires his teammates with his hustle, effort and determination.

    Next season, he will be teammates with Cal Clutterbuck, another of the league's hit leaders. The thought of the two of them playing on the same line may be as close as modern NHL fans get to seeing the Hanson Brothers on the ice.

6. Michal Rozsival

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    Defenseman Michal Rozsival manages to help his team win hockey games without making a lot of headlines. At this point in his career, Rozsival is a third-pair defenseman, but he is easily able to step up and play top-four minutes without hurting his team.

    It is not an accident that his teams have been successful for nearly all of his career.

    In 2005-06, Rozsival tied for the best plus/minus in the league with a plus-35. In 2011-12, he helped the Phoenix Coyotes win their first Pacific Division crown and reach the Western Conference Final for the first time in their history. Last year, he quietly helped the Blackhawks win a Stanley Cup.

    Despite the fact that he has never scored more than 40 points in any NHL season, Rozsival has always been a reliable contributor to his team's success.

5. Brad Stuart

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    Brad Stuart isn't flashy, but he is quietly effective and is a valuable contributor to any team he plays for.

    Stuart plays a lot of minutes on defense, plays a physical game and is very strong in his own zone. At different times during his career, he has also contributed on the power play, and he makes very good transition passes to help his team break out of its own zone.

    Stuart helped the Red Wings win the Stanley Cup in 2008 and reach the Stanley Cup Final again in 2009. He was a top-four defenseman who was usually on ice with Niklas Kronwall.

    The 33-year-old is now with the San Jose Sharks. While there is no doubt that the Red Wings missed Nicklas Lidstrom after his retirement last season, they also missed Stuart's steady defensive play as well.

4. Dan Girardi

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    New York Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi never puts up huge offensive numbers, but those who watch him play game in and game out know how valuable he is to his team.

    Girardi led all Rangers defenseman last season with an average of 25:24 of ice time per game. He also had 125 blocked shots, tops in the league last year. Numbers like that don't earn headlines, but they do earn you respect.

    Girardi's longtime defense partner (when he's healthy), Marc Staal, said of his teammate, via Dave Lozo of NHL.com, "He's solid every game. He's physical. He blocks a ton of shots. He's a lot of fun to play with. He makes it easier on me."

    At 29, Girardi is in his prime and remains one of the league's better unsung heroes.

3. Francois Beauchemin

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    Francois Beauchemin won't be among the leaders in points for defensemen, but he plays a consistent and efficient style that makes the players around him better.

    He led all Anaheim Ducks defensemen last season with 23:27 average ice time per game. He also finished the season with an impressive plus-19 rating.

    The high plus/minus rating is even more impressive when you consider that Beauchemin is usually sent out to slow down the opposition's top goal scorers.

    According to Curtis Zupke of NHL.com, Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau was impressed with his play, especially in the playoffs.

    "He plays between 23-25 minutes, every team's best player, best line, and he usually comes through," Boudreau said.

    Beauchemin already won one Stanley Cup with the Ducks in 2007, and he was a big part of the team's return to the playoffs last season as well.

2. Mike Fisher

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    Nashville Predators center Mike Fisher has been a steady and productive NHL player for 13 season, but he is better known to fans for his marriage to country singer Carrie Underwood than he is for his exploits on the ice.

    Fisher has had five seasons of 20 or more goals, and he likely would have had another 20-plus-goal season this past year had the lockout not shortened the season.

    He is a player who commands respect in the locker room, scores clutch goals and helps contribute on the power play.

    Fisher is no star, but he is a consistently good performer whose contributions are often overlooked by most fans.

1. Frans Nielsen

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    Frans Nielsen is not a household name, but he is the kind of player that any NHL team would love to have on its roster.

    Nielsen is one of the league's top defensive centers. He also is one of the league's best players at the shootout, converting on 55.6 percent of his chances over the course of his career, according to John Kreiser of NHL.com

    The Danish forward does the little things that help a team win hockey games, like killing penalties, filling in on the second power-play unit and providing leadership in the locker room.

    He is no star, but he's a valuable piece of the puzzle and one of the NHL's unsung heroes.


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