Fred Kfoury/Icon SMI)
Regardless of a team’s position in the standings, each one sports at least one player that contributes quietly but effectively to any success a team may have. With this in mind, we take a look at the top unsung players in the NHL’s Northeast Division.
Josh Gorges, D, Montreal Canadiens – The defenseman who bleeds the Canadiens’ blue, white and red also sports his fair share of black and blues for the team. He’s arguably the leage’s best shot blocker, coming in atop the league with 234 blocked shots. Gorges already surpassed the franchise high mark of 227 blocked shots set by former Canadien Mike Komisarek. The 27-year-old defenseman has had a strong rebound season after an injury plagued 2010-11 campaign where he only played in 36 games. Signed to a six-year contract extension, the tough defensive defenseman is expected to be a Canadien for a long time.
Filip Kuba, D, Ottawa Senators – A player deemed unmovable by some last season, Kuba has turned his game around in a big way at the age of 35. He has made a miraculous transition from the type of player he was a year ago. Much of it has to do with the defenseman finally seeing a relatively healthy year, but he’s made a terrific tandem with young Swedish defenseman Erik Karlsson. The veteran defenseman allows Karlsson to apply his offensive strengths, while he’s able to focus on the defensive side of things. Kuba is tops on the Senators, and fourth in the league (second among defenders) with a +29. He also logs the second most ice time on the team.
Chris Kelly, C, Boston Bruins – Acquired last season for playoff depth, Kelly proved to be more than just a defensive-minded forward in the playoffs. He finished in the top seven in team playoff scoring with five goals and nine assists in 25 games. This season, Kelly’s offensive game has taken another step forward. The two-way forward has scored 19 goals and added 18 assists for the Bruins this year while managing a +32 (good for second in the NHL). His totals are even more impressive given that he averages approximately 14:43 minutes a night. Primarily linked with strong defensive play, the 31-year-old has shown he’s more than just a depth forward this season.
Jason Pominville, C, Buffalo Sabres – Arguably one of the league’s most underrated players, Jason Pominville has taken his game to another level this season. Named team captain at the start of the season, Pominville has risen to the leadership challenge and has led the Buffalo Sabres in all offensive categories. The 29-year-old product of the Sabres development system sits on the edge of the 30-goal, 70-point plateau. He has 29 goals and 39 assists this season for the Sabres, and has been the clubs most consistent offensive threat in a year where they’ve had trouble finding consistency from some of their veterans.
Mikhail Grabovski, C, Toronto Maple Leafs – The development that has taken place over the last few seasons with Grabovski has been night and day. Coming over to the Maple Leafs, Grabovski had lots of question marks in relation to his attitude and as to whether he could crack an NHL roster full time. Over the last two seasons, Grabovski has proven to be one of the Maple Leafs most consistent workhorses night in night out. Even when Grabovski isn’t producing, he’s usually creating chances with his blinding speed, and tenacious forecheck. With Nikolai Kulemin’s dramatic drop-off statistically, Grabovski has still been able to produce at a solid clip with 49 points through 71 games. With a brand new five-year, $27.5 million dollar contract, the 28-year-old is seen as a key core member for the club.
Northeast Division Notes
Boston Bruins – The Bruins will host the Washington Capitals tonight. The team sits atop the Northeast Division with 93 points heading into Thursday night.
Buffalo Sabres – Christian Ehrhoff will be out indefinitely with a knee injury suffered in Tuesday’s win over Washington. Defenseman Mike Weber is expected to slide into the vacant defensive position. Both Derek Roy and Andrej Sekera were absent from Wednesday’s practise for maintenance purposes. The Sabres have signed University of Maine forward Brian Flynn to a two-year contract. He will report to Rochester in the AHL.
Montreal Canadiens – The Canadiens announced the signing of defensive prospect Greg Pateryn to a two-year contract on Wednesday. Pateryn finished up his college career with the University of Michigan.after the Wolverines were eliminated by Cornell in the NCAA tournament.
Ottawa Senators – The Senators announced the signing of defensive prospect Chris Wideman to a two-year contract on Wednesday. Wideman wrapped up his college career at Miami University after his team was eliminated by UMass-Lowell.
Toronto Maple Leafs – With James Reimer out with an upper body injury, the Maple Leafs recalled goaltender Ben Scrivens from Toronto (AHL). As a result, the club sent Jussi Rynnas back to Toronto (AHL). David Steckle left Wednesday’s practice early. The club announced the signing of free agent forward Spencer Abbott from the University of Maine (NCAA) to a one-year deal. He’ll play the remainder of the season on an ATO with Toronto (AHL).