By NATE FOLEY (email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
There are many reasons players get underrated. They may not get proper recognition because of their team’s market, or perhaps they are overshadowed by the bigger-named teammates who share their ice. Whatever the reason, there are several guys in the
league who do not get their due diligence for their play on the ice. This is the NHL All-Underrated Team.
Forward—Ryan Kesler (Vancouver Canucks)
Kesler should be in the running for the Selke Trophy as the league’s top defensive forward for many years to come. He plays an excellent two-way game, and is a tough matchup for any opposing first line. He is not flashy, and will not wow people with offensive ability, but he gets the job done.
Kesler plays a simple brand of hockey that is based solely on hard work and smarts. He is one of the best face-off men in the league, and will do anything for his team. His goal for Team USA in February’s Olympics personifies the Kesler as a player. In the waning moments of an upset over heavily-favored Team Canada, Kesler was on the ice to defend the lead. He chased down Corey Perry from behind and dove around him to slap the puck into the empty cage with one hand on his stick. Pure determination.
Location does not help a player like Kesler get the credit he deserves. Playing on the West Coast does not allow fans in the east to see him on a consistent basis. Home games start at 10:30 p.m. EST and Buffalo will see Western Conference teams a maximum of two times a season.
Forward—Dustin Brown (Los Angeles Kings)
Ithaca native — and teammate of Kesler at the 2010 Olympics — Dustin Brown is a beast. He dawns the captain “C” for a reason. Brown is a complete hockey player with no true weak spot in his game. He is a very smart player that plays in every situation. Brown kills penalties, plays on the power play, and anchors the first line with another relatively unknown stud and offensive dynamo, Anze Kopitar.
Brown is not afraid to play a rough and physical game. In fact, this is when
he is at his best. He is always among the league leaders in hits, and opposing defensemen are aware when number 23 is out there. While he is not the biggest guy out there (6’0” 209), Brown is a true power forward, and an absolute force when he is on the ice. This 26 year-old American boy does things the right way. Last year, he was a finalist for the NHL Foundation Player Award, which recognizes service and commitment to charities in the community. His leadership on and off the ice are undeniable. However, he faces the same challenges as Kesler, playing on the West Coast. It is a real shame that he is not ahousehold name.
Forward—Claude Giroux (Philadelphia Flyers)
Giroux came into his own during the Flyers Stanley Cup Playoff run last year. In 23 games, the 22 year-old had 21 points, including ten goals. The 22nd overall pick in the 2006 Draft has an exceptional offensive upside. His combination of great on-ice vision, quick feet, smarts, creativity, and a wonderful set of hands, will have him at or about a point per game clip for years to come.
Giroux already has three shorthanded goals this season, which currently leads the league. It may take a little longer to get the proper acknowledgment with proven superstars like Richards, Pronger, Carter, and Briere already on the team. He was royally snubbed this week, and left off of the 2011 All-Star ballot. Giroux is 7th in the league with 21 points right now. Hopefully with time, he will get the respect he deserves. This kid can
Defense—Dustin Byfuglien (Atlanta Thrashers)
Dustin “Big Buff” Byfuglien is a linebacker on skates. At 6’5” and 265, Byfuglien is unstoppable, regardless of position. He started off his career as a defenseman, was converted to forward, won a StanleyCup, got traded, and is now back patrolling the blue line once again. He is currently tied for second in scoring among defensemen.
Buffalo fans know all too well the power and skill this man possesses. His overtime rush against the Sabres was really something special. He has tremendous feet for a big man, is a physical force, and has one of the heaviest shots in the league from the point. It really is not fair that a man of his size has the agility and skills that he has. He was not the number one guy in Chicago, as Kane, Toews, Keith, and Seabrook stole the show.
He was a “role player” for the Hawks. The sarcasm should shine though the “role player” designation, because not many role players have 11 goals for a Stanley Cup winning squad, five of which were game winners.Byfuglien, along with youngster Evander Kane are the go-to-guys in the ATL, and deserve to be in the spotlight. Unfortunately, nobody really pays any attention to the Thrashers, because they are, well, the Thrashers. To say it is not a hockey market would be a sad and gross understatement, as they boast the second lowest attendance numbers in the league, only ahead of Phoenix.
Defense—Dan Boyle (San Jose Sharks)
The former Stanley Cup Champion with Tampa Bay is the straw that stirs the San Jose offensive “drink.” His breakout passes are crisp, and always tape to tape. The first power play unit runs through him. Boyle quarterbacks the man-advantage as good as any other blue liner out there. He makes the Thornton, Heatley, Marleau line even more dangerous. Teams cannot put all their focus on stopping the big three, because Boyle is just as dangerous. He is a smooth skater that sees the whole ice incredibly well. He is an elite puck mover that is a perennial number one defenseman. The aforementioned line of Thornton, Heatley, and Marleau, combined with budding star Joe Pavelski, certainly takes away some appreciation for the game of Dan Boyle. He also has to fight the same lack of national exposure that Brown and Kesler have to deal with, playing on the West Coast.
Goaltender—Carey Price (Montreal Canadiens)
It must not be forgotten that this net-minder is only 23 years old. He has been through quite a bit in his short career. Goaltender controversies and ridiculous expectations have followed him around since he entered the league in 2007. Before he even played a single minute in between the pipes, he was anointed the next Hall of Fame goalie for the Habs. Comparisons to legends Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy were unfair, and extremely lofty.
Even with his World Junior Gold, and Calder Cup playoffs MVP award, too much was put on this kid’s shoulders. When he struggles or has a bad game, like every goalie does, Price takes more of a beating, because he plays in Montreal. However, he has really proven that he is resilient. He has finally been given the opportunity to be the guy, with nobody poised to take his job. The brass in Montreal decided Jaroslav Halak was expendable after his magical run in the 2010 playoffs, and it looks like it was a good gamble. He was written off plenty of times as a monumental bust and a bum, but Price is playing with a ton of confidence right now, and currently has the Canadiens atop the Northeast Division.