Time to shed some light on the unheralded

December, 29, 2008

In the spirit of the holiday season, I figured it was a good time to offer a little love to some guys who -- for one reason or another -- don't seem to be getting the attention that they deserve. Most of these guys aren't dynamic league leaders. Rather, they're skaters or stoppers who are having good seasons and really helping their respective clubs. Although a couple dozen guys could qualify for the list, I've decided to settle on 10. If you have any other suggestions, feel free to let me know.

Travis Zajac, C, Devils (10-16-26, plus-12). Let's start with Z. This 23-year-old Winnipeg native was selected with the 20th overall pick in 2004 and seems to be finding his way in his third pro season. Zajac is playing with growing confidence and is doing a nice job centering a pair of American wingers, Zack Parise and Jamie Langenbrunner. He's been a big part of the Devils' ability to push forward in the standings despite the loss of injured super stopper Martin Brodeur.

Duncan Keith, D, Blackhawks (4-14-18, plus-19). In Chicago, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews get most of the attention. And there's nothing wrong with that. However, Keith has quietly become one of the top defensemen in the league. The 25-year-old, who, like Zajac, also comes from Winnipeg, is a major minute-eater. This season, he's again leading the club, averaging more that 26 minutes per game. His plus-19 ranks seventh in the league.

Bryan Little, C, Thrashers (18-12-30, plus-2). Again this season, there hasn't been much to cheer about in Atlanta. Little's emergence as a goal-scoring threat has been a bright spot. The 21-year-old Edmonton native, selected 12th overall in the 2006 draft, is tied for seventh in the league with 18 goals. The Thrashers haven't been blessed with too many talented centers in their short history. Little, one of the very few Thrashers with a plus, could be part of the long-term solution for the troubled franchise.

Loui Eriksson, LW, Stars (18-8-26, plus-5). The 33rd pick in the 2003 draft, the Swedish-born winger has become a scoring threat around the net. Like Little, Eriksson is among a group of players tied for seventh in goals. And, like Little, he's a plus player on a poor defensive club. Eriksson has totaled 23 of his 26 points at even strength. In other words, he isn't a guy who's piling up goals on the power play. That's impressive to me.

David Krejci, C, Bruins (13-26-39, plus-22). There have been a lot of things to like about the Bruins during the first half of the season. In this case, I'll single out the second-year pivot from Sternberk, Czech Republic. Krejci, a second-round steal (63rd overall) during the 2004 draft, ranks among the top 10 playmakers in the league with 26 helpers. His plus-22 also stands among the best in the league. This guy has been a big part of the club's secondary scoring attack.

Steve Montador, D, Ducks (2-6-8, plus-14). In Anaheim, when you talk about defense, you talk about Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger. That's logical. But, you do need more than just two guys on the blue line. This season, the 29-year-old Montador is giving the Ducks quality minutes. That's been particularly important because of the loss of injured D Francois Beauchemin. A journeyman who has made previous stops in Calgary and Florida, Montador is a team-leading plus-14.

Steve Mason, G, Blue Jackets (10-7-1, 1.87 GAA, .932 SP, 3 SO). At this time last year, the lanky (6-foot-4, 212-pound) Mason was backstopping Team Canada to a gold medal at the World Junior Championships. Now, just 20, he's making a name for himself in Columbus. A third-round pick in 2006, Mason's 1.87 goals-against average is tops in the league. And Mason's .932 save percentage ranks third. Can the Jackets ride their rookie stopper to their first playoff bid? Maybe.

Kyle Quincey, D, Kings (2-18-20, plus-2). Clearly, Quincey has been the best waiver pickup of the season. Since arriving from Detroit, the 23-year-old Quincey has been a big help on the L.A. blue line, averaging more than 22 minutes per game. The Kings seem to have a boat-load of young defensive talent in their organization. That bodes well for their future. Quincey stands among that group and he figures in the club's long-term plans.

Shea Weber, D, Predators (11-15-26, plus-12). Now, I know that Weber is among the top young defenders in the league. In fact, I think he'll receive Norris Trophy consideration. But I wanted to add him to my list because I don't think he gets nearly enough attention. The sad fact: If he played in a bigger media market, he'd get a lot more camera time. Another member of the prestigious 2003 draft class (49th overall), the 23-year-old Weber is averaging a club-best 23:44 minutes of ice time. He also leads the team with a plus-12.

Alex Goligoski, D, Penguins (6-12-18, plus-9). In Pittsburgh, we all know which two players get the most media attention. But, several others help make the Pens go. Goligoski, whose path to the NHL was accelerated by injuries to vets Ryan Whitney (back after missing the first 33 games) and Sergei Gonchar, has been one of that support group. The offensive-minded defenseman has provided steady play during his rookie campaign. A three-year star at the University of Minnesota, Goligoski has contributed to the Pens' power play in Gonchar's absence. And, the 23-year-old has a very solid plus-9.

E.J. Hradek

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
E.J. Hradek is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, joining the staff prior to its launch in 1998. He began covering hockey as a writer/editor for Hockey Illustrated in 1989.



You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?