Always viewed as a luxury, secondary scoring is a must-have commodity for any NHL club planning to withstand more than one round of the playoffs. Some of the brightest young talents in the sport today are operating in the shadows of first-liners and more popular reputations. Forgetting them would be unwise, because last year’s Stanley Cup Champions won with the aid of reinforcement players; Kris Versteeg, Dustin Byfuglien, Dave Bolland, and Andrew Ladd to name a few.
Exactly how are we going to single out these individuals? As helpful as they can be, lines are an unpractical method because combinations are shaken up and changed when a coach sees it in his best interests. Here’s how it will work: all clubs have a select few forwards who take care of the majority of its production. From there, a drop-off is obvious. For example, the Anaheim Ducks have Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Teemu Selanne, and Bobby Ryan controlling the steering wheel. Beneath Ryan by 27 points is Saku Koivu, who sits in the back seat with Jason Blake and somewhere in the trunk lies Maxim Lapierre; these are the secondary scorers for Anaheim.
It is not an exact science as to how many players will form the primary scorers; the numbers vary. Emphasis will go towards this season’s statistics and the individuals who added steel to the offense. Our policy states that defensemen will not be mentioned because they are busy as it is trying to stop forwards from breaching the net. And no rookies; it's too early to measure their roles.
Vincent Lecavalier, Simon Gagne, Ryan Malone, and Steve Downie were all caught up in injuries this year. Coming to the rescue with career-high numbers was Purcell, who earned his share of playing minutes alongside Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis. Not a bad position for an undrafted winger with 34 points in a total of 110 matches. The ideal frame was there from day one and at last, the hands are showing up too for a player creeping towards his prime seasons. Steve Yzerman’s decisions from the office have been spot-on and he’ll eventually be considering Purcell’s status as a soon-to-be restricted free agent.
Putting aside for one minute the havoc that turned up for Colorado, the quality of Jones markedly improved and this belongs in the ‘bright side’ of their chart. Having fallen out with an ACL tear when he was starting to find his niche last year, the 26-year-old potted one goal for each year he has lived on this planet – never mind blowing out candles on a birthday cake. Consider that with his cost of $850,000, and the Avalanche got one bang for their buck. Looking around the league, Jones’ handy-work is impressive: Anze Kopitar, Claude Giroux, Loui Eriksson, and Dany Heatley are caught on 25 goals.
Gradually falling out of favour with Brent Sutter in December before being reinstated, Glencross was a driving force when Calgary attracted heat at long last. Cliché as it may sound, he feels right at home in the corners and will do the dirty work to enable those around him to bloom. At the trade deadline, he was widely tipped to have received a plethora of interest from organizations, but Jay Feaster wouldn’t set him free. With the Flames’ life support running out yesterday and the medical personnel standing by for when the plug was pulled, Glencross still did his task by boosting their spine.
Is there a more underappreciated competitor in the National Hockey League? Denmark’s proud export is a big-hearted and tactically aware center who has a penchant for scoring shorthanded. Nielsen’s seven goals on the penalty kill are usurped by just seven clubs when adding their combined tallies and it evens an Islanders franchise record established by Bob Bourne some 30-plus years ago. Unselfish and terrifically wise, there is not a single predicament on the ice that deters this 26-year-old. Long Island has been praised from the All-Star Game and onward, as they have much promise for a brighter future that Nielsen figures into. To top it off, he was recently presented with the Bob Nystrom Award for his leadership, hustle, and dedication to the game.
6) Daniel Cleary (Detroit Red Wings)
Three minutes from a stoppage and sudden death, the Detroit Red Wings relinquished a two-goal lead to Anaheim. Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan did the hard bit of getting the Ducks on even terms. Did we neglect to mention this was Game Seven of the 2009 Western Conference Semi-Final? Anaheim shook off Detroit only two years earlier in the Conference Final, and it was time for payback. Stopping in front of Jonas Hiller, Cleary did not move an inch and Henrik Zetterberg knew only too well that, at a moment like this, straightforward hockey takes over. Cleary batted the puck down and proceeded to jam away the series-clinching marker. It’s no wonder he is a fan favourite, as his sacrifice and versatility are commendable.
Scorer of Philadelphia’s final goal in the 2010 postseason, Hartnell is front and center when it comes to charging the crease. Slashing, punching, tripping, or cross-checking him won’t do any good; he’ll still be there wreaking havoc. The penalty box has kept him company on days aplenty, but Hartnell is no stranger to the score sheet – eclipsing 20 goals in five of six previous seasons. The Flyers are littered with shooters and playmakers, so perhaps it is convenient that this agitator is prepared to get his nose dirty. Bottom line: Hartnell can lure opponents into taking unwise penalties, bury them further on the powerplay, or be disciplined for his own mischievous acts. He gives new meaning to the term ‘wild card’.
Kunitz has a distinctive style of play, owing much to his time in Anaheim. Once upon a time, this forechecking machine was waived twice in two weeks – first grabbed by Atlanta from Anaheim, then quickly returning to California. Although his passion for the sport can leave him hurting because of his average size, Kunitz is a smart two-way player. Pittsburgh has coped well with missing Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for months, courtesy of Kunitz’s tenacity that fails to disappear. You could also point to Tyler Kennedy’s progression, Jordan Staal’s savvy contributions, and Marc-Andre Fleury being his regular self. As the playoffs roll around, Kunitz will have his work cut out for him, not that he’d have it any other way.
Solid on both ends of the rink, Laich has come on leaps and bounds – so much so that Bruce Boudreau is more than happy to experiment with him as a powerplay quarterback. Having played all but four of Washington’s games in four years, the Saskatchewan native’s body has not let him down in the trenches. Although his numbers were dampened by Washington’s appreciation for defensive hockey, Laich is integral to their blueprint and he’s fit in stupendously. Always alert, expect the former Ottawa Senator to show up with his lunch box to work his rear end off in the postseason.
Sweden’s Olympic hockey management sparked some choice words from Samuelsson when they left him out of their roster. Few expected him to be omitted, but he was on a 14-game goalless drought at an inopportune time. Therein lies the 34-year-old’s conundrum; Samuelsson lives and dies by streaks. At his hottest, he is a potent scorer who can fool goaltenders with the flick of a wrist or unleash heavy one-timers from the point on a powerplay. At his coldest, he is hard to find on the ice because he reverts to acting unenthusiastically. With Samuelsson, – as with any enigma – a coach must take the good with the bad. Luckily for him, his good holds the most weight, as he has a Stanley Cup and Olympic gold medal to verify such a claim.
1) Ville Leino (Philadelphia Flyers)
General Manager Ken Holland isn’t used to being the loser of a trade, but Leino has turned into a magnificent playmaker since cutting ties with the city of Detroit. Ole-Kristian Tollefsen, the instant return on the transaction, never went beyond the Grand Rapids in the American Hockey League and can now be found in Sweden. Head coach Mike Babcock stated that Leino was the best player he had ever cut in 2009 and Holland could say that the Finn is the finest piece of weaponry he gave away for next to nothing. All is not lost, because there is still the matter of the 2011 fifth-round draft pick that was fetched for Leino. If anybody can mold something out of that selection, it is definitely Holland and the Red Wings scouting staff.
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