Southeast: Underappreciated players make a difference

By Cory Lavalette

 

Photo: Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Eric Brewer has helped to make his defense partner, Victor Hedman, a better player (courtesy of

Cliff Welch/Icon SMI)

For every top-tier goaltender, 40-goal sniper, power play quarterback and hyped up-and-comer, there are several other role players on NHL rosters who take on less glamorous roles to help their teams win. They go by many names — grinders, character players, shutdown defenders, backups — but every great team has as many accomplished role players as they do stars.

Here’s a look at an unsung hero from each of the Southeast Division’s teams.


Eric Brewer, D, Tampa Bay Lightning
Brewer has been involved in some of the NHL’s bigger trades since being the 5th overall pick by the New York Islanders in 1997. We was shipped to Edmonton in 2000 as part of a package that sent 1992 first overall pick Roman Hamrlik to the Islanders. Then, five years later, he was traded to St. Louis — where he later served as the team’s captain — as part of a deal that sent Chris Pronger to the Oilers.

But his arrival in Tampa Bay wasn’t nearly as big of a splash. When the Lightning acquired him last season ahead of the trade deadline for prospect Brock Beukeboom and a draft pick, they knew they were getting a character player who could take on a shutdown role. He’s brought exactly that. On an otherwise much-maligned defense, Brewer has teamed with — and helped groom — 21-year-old Victor Hedman to form a solid shutdown pairing. Brewer leads the Lightning in shorthanded ice time (3:20 per game) and hits (177), plus is second on the team and 11th in the NHL in blocked shots (165). The rest of the Tampa Bay defense needs a rebuild, but in Brewer and Hedman the Lightning have a pairing on which to build.

Scott Clemmensen, G, Florida Panthers - There are many reasons the Panthers are poised to win their first-ever division title, and there’s no denying that Clemmensen's contributions have played a part in that. With No. 1 goalie Jose Theodore having a bounce-back season, Clemmensen has been overlooked despite putting together a solid campaign. He’s had 23 starts in 27 games for Florida and is 13-6-5 —including 5-2 in his last five decisions – as the Panthers have seized control on the Southeast Division lead.

Clemmensen will be 35 and an unrestricted free agent this offseason, but he has established himself as one of the league’s more reliable backups over the past three seasons with Florida. The Panthers have prized prospect Jacob Markstrom in the pipeline, so Clemmensen’s time in South Florida could be running out — but not before he helps the Panthers return to the postseason.

Patrick Dwyer, RW, Carolina HurricanesDwyer took the long path to the NHL. After his senior season at Western Michigan ended, he went and played the balance of the season in the ECHL, then spent three full seasons in the AHL before getting his chance with the Hurricanes in 2008-09. Dwyer has made the most of his NHL chance.

Dwyer’s NHL numbers don’t make one’s jaw draw drop (42 points in 220 career games), but he has carved out an important role with the Hurricanes. Teamed with alternate captain Brandon Sutter, Dwyer makes up two-thirds of the Hurricanes’ shutdown line, taking on the opposition’s best every night and also teaming up to kill penalties. Despite his slight frame, he is third on the team in hits (123), second among forwards in blocked shots (60) and logs nearly two minutes a night shorthanded. He also creates offensive opportunities with his speed, illustrated in the number of penalties he draws. He has just 11 point in 68 games this season, but that includes two shorthanded goals.

Tanner Glass, LW, Winnipeg Jets - Glass started the season in much the same role he filled with the Canucks the past two seasons: a fourth-line penalty killer. But it didn’t take long for Glass to move onto Winnipeg’s top nine. Most recently teamed with Jim Slater and rookie Spencer Machacek on the Jets’ third line, Glass is the definition of a character player.

Glass ranks eighth in the NHL in hits (245) and is one of two Jets players, along with captain Andrew Ladd, to play in all 77 of Winnipeg’s games. He’s also among the Jets’ top penalty killers and has added a career-high 16 points.

Dennis Wideman, D, Washington CapitalsJohn Carlson, Dmitry Orlov and Karl Alzner — all younger than 23 — and former Norris Trophy finalist Mike Green get a lot of the headlines, but Wideman has served as the Capitals’ No. 1 defenseman this season.

Not only is Wideman eighth in the NHL in scoring by a defenseman (45 points), but he plays in all situations and ranks first on the team in ice time at nearly 24 minutes a game. He also has eclipsed the century mark in both blocked shots (109) and hits (121). With so many young defensemen in the fold and both Green and Carlson due new contracts as restricted free agents, the Capitals could be hard-pressed to keep Wideman, a UFA, this off-season.