Tony Medina/Icon SMI)
Every team has star players. Even the worst team in the league has a player that, when the going gets tough, the team turns to them to bail them out. They’re the ones that get most of the press. They get the spotlight and the big interviews, but the players that make every team tick are the players that do the little things – the unsung heroes, so to speak. Here are some of the Northwest Division’s more unheralded players.
Mark Giordano, D, Calgary Flames – It’s a truly special defenseman that is equally at home shorthanded as he is with the man advantage or at even strength, and that is exactly what Giordano brings to the Flames lineup. Giordano leads the Flames in power play ice time and is fifth on the team in shorthanded ice time, showing that he’s got head coach Brent Sutter’s confidence in every situation. He leads the team’s defensemen in goals (nine) and shots (117) – the only other defenseman on the squad with more than 100 shots is Jay Bouwmeester, with 101 – and he also has registered 80 hits and is second on the team in blocked shots with 122.
Ryan O’Reilly, C, Colorado Avalanche – It’s not very often that a team’s leading scorer is also their unsung hero, but that’s the case with O’Reilly for a couple of reasons. First, O’Reilly is rarely the person that people talk about when they mention the Avalanche. It’s always the players like Matt Duchene or Gabriel Landeskog. In fact, when you think of the Avalanche’s team, O’Reilly’s name is rarely one that comes to mind. Second, it’s all of the little things that he does. His faceoff percentage is 52.9%, and he takes the majority of the Avalanche’s draws. He plays in every situation -he’s got three game-winning goals (including two in overtime), he has 61 hits and, what could be his most important statistic, he has 96 takeaways. In addition, he is a huge cog on the power play, as he has been on for 20 of his team’s power play goals.
Ryan Jones, LW, Edmonton Oilers – Sure, the Oilers have all of the flashy, young players on their squad, but if you’re looking for a heart-and-soul type player – the type of player that you hate to play against, but love to have on your squad – look no further than Jones. He doesn’t get much time with the man advantage, though he has managed three power-play goals while playing just 50 seconds per game on the power play. But Jones is one of Edmonton’s key penalty killers and is leading the team in short-handed goals. His 107 hits are fourth on the squad and his shooting percentage puts him behind only Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on the Oilers. He’s scored the first goal twice for the Oilers and the game-winning tally twice.
Clayton Stoner, D, Minnesota Wild – If there’s one thing that the Wild have lacked on their blue line this season, it has been a solid, physical defenseman, but that is exactly what Stoner has brought when he’s been healthy. He has just three assists this season, but the only player on the team with a better plus/minus than him is their captain, Mikko Koivu. Stoner primarily plays on the team’s second penalty kill unit ,and he has 67 hits and 74 blocked shots in just 47 games for the Wild this season. He doesn’t shoot the puck often and he doesn’t contribute much on the offensive side of things, but he’s a leader on the squad and he brings so much more than offense to the table.
Chris Higgins, LW, Vancouver Canucks – For all of the offensive weapons that the Canucks have, Chris Higgins may be the most surprising this season. Fourth on the Canucks in goals, all Higgins has done this season is score clutch goals for Vancouver. Five times he’s scored the first goal of the game, four times he’s scored the game-winning tally and two of those have come in overtime. That’s nine goals out of his 16 total that have been extremely important to the Canucks’ success. Offense isn’t all that Higgins has brought to the table for the Canucks. He’s played both on the penalty kill and the power play; he has 48 takeaways this season for Vancouver, as well as being a plus-eight this season.
Tony Medina/Icon SMI)
Northwest Division Notes
Flames defenseman Mark Giordano was honored, on Wednesday, with the J.R. McCaig Award. The award is given to the Flames player that best exemplifies the virtues of respect, courtesy and compassion for all individuals he encountered both in his professional and everyday life. … Canucks center Manny Malhotra is the team’s nominee for the Bill Masterton Trophy. Malhotra missed the end of last season and the majority of the playoffs with an eye injury suffered on Mar. 16, 2011.