With marquee names such as Henrik Lundqvist, Evgeni Malkin, and Martin Brodeur playing in the Atlantic, it is easy to overlook some of the various depth and role players in the division. Below, in no particular order, are the top five unsung heroes in the Atlantic Division.
Brian Boyle, C, New York Rangers – Towering center Brian Boyle may be one of the most important players on the Rangers roster though he rarely comes up in conversation. Standing at 6’7, it’s hard to miss Boyle, especially when he is throwing his 244-pound frame around in the corners and along the boards. But his importance goes far beyond the physical presence he provides. Boyle has taken the second-most faceoffs on the Rangers roster behind only Brad Richards, is second on the team (and 14th in the league) with 223 hits, and has a fairly solid offensive skill-set. He even managed 21 goals last season while playing mostly as a third-line center. Boyle currently is the Rangers top shutdown forward, often playing with wingers Artem Anisimov and Brandon Prust.
Matt Carle, D, Philadelphia Flyers – On a Flyers blue line that has seen a ridiculous amount of injuries over the season, Matt Carle has remained a consistent, steady, and most importantly, healthy presence. He currently leads the Flyers in average ice time per game with 23:01, and has developed into a defenseman who can be deployed in all situations. Not an overly physical player, Carle has occasionally felt the wrath of fans, especially when he mishandles or improperly plays the puck. But that should not detract from him being one of the biggest reasons the Flyers have a strong transition game, and have already clinched a playoff spot despite missing over 300 man games to injury.
Pascal Dupuis, C/W, Pittsburgh Penguins – Probably the most versatile player on the Penguins roster, Pascal Dupuis can no longer be considered an underappreciated player at the end of the 2011-12 season, as he has already achieved career-highs in goals (23) and points (51) and has six more games to add to those tallies. More importantly, he managed those totals while playing every position in every situation imaginable, from center to point-man on the powerplay. He rarely missed a beat either as his up-tempo style of skating and on-ice personality seems to mesh perfectly with the Penguins offensive systems and overall philosophy. Dupuis has been exceptionally durable too, having missed only two games over his last three seasons of NHL hockey.
Petr Sykora, RW, New Jersey Devils – When Sykora signed a one-year deal with the New Jersey Devils in October 2011, little fanfare was made as the aging forward was long since past his prime and had battled injuries over the past several seasons. The signing proved to be shrewd one, though, and Sykora has been a valuable contributor, potting 18 goals through 77 games, including five game-winners. He has run a little hot and cold all season long, though, but this should not be alarming as even in his prime the Czech forward was not known for being a model of consistency.
Andrew MacDonald, D, New York Islanders – Very quietly, Andrew MacDonald, along with more heralded defensive partner Travis Hamonic, has developed into one of the better young defensemen in the NHL. He plays a no-nonsense, shutdown style of game, blocks a lot of shots, plays the body, and gets the puck up ice quickly. He also averages the most ice time of any Islanders player with 23:36 minutes per game.
Atlantic Division Notes
New Jersey Devils – Forwards Danius Zubras, Alexei Ponikarovsky, and David Clarkson have all gone nine games or more without a goal, something they will look to change when they host the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight. After playing center for almost the entire season, rookie Adam Henrique was recently moved to left wing on a line with center Travis Zajac and sniper Ilya Kovalchuk.
New York Islanders – The Penguins will visit Long Island tonight to wrap up a home-and-home series that began Tuesday. Sniper Matt Moulson is Pittsburgh Penguins‘ coach Dan Bylsma’s pick for the Lady Byng Trophy, which goes to the player who best exemplifies sportsmanship and gentlemanly play. Moulson has committed just three minor infractions all season long.
New York Rangers – OHL forward Andrew Yogan, the Rangers fourth-round pick in 2010, signed an entry level contract on Monday. Yogan managed 41 goals and 96 penalty minutes in 66 games for the Peterborough Petes. The Rangers won against the Winnipeg Jets last night, giving them 105 points on the season, five ahead of the next team in the division and conference, the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Philadelphia Flyers – The Flyers will look to sweep the Toronto Maple Leafs in their season series when they visit Toronto for their fourth and final match of the season. Philadelphia will be doing so without the services of goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov who injured his foot in pregame warm-ups on Monday.
Pittsburgh Penguins – Defensemen Kris Letang and Matt Niskanen did not make the Penguins road trip, which begins tonight against the Islanders and ends Friday in Buffalo. Defenseman Ben Lovejoy will be out from two to four weeks after recently undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his knee.