Pacific: Ducks’ Sbisa flying under the radar

By Andrew Knoll

Photo: Anaheim Ducks defenseman Luca Sbisa has made good progress in his development this season (courtesy of

Andy Mead/YCJ/Icon SMI)

The Pacific Division has its share of high-profile scorers and renowned two-way players, but a handful of less heralded skaters have buoyed their teams with contributions that don’t always show up on the score sheet. Here are HF’s picks from each Pacific Division clubs.

Luca Sbisa, D, Anaheim Ducks
Sbisa has quietly rounded into a complete, two-way defenseman who can pass, carry the puck, find the net with shots, remain sound positionally and use his size respectably. Many around the Pacific have observed that it has been Sbisa and not Cam Fowler that made the most progress and showed the most promise since his arrival in Anaheim. While Fowler has been a minus machine, Sbisa has a shot to finish the season with an even rating despite a disastrous start for the Ducks. His five goals, 18 assists and 23 points are all career highs and he has shown glimpses of a more explosive offensive game.

Trevor Daley, D, Dallas Stars
Daley has shed the “untapped offensive potential label” and settled into a steady level of offensive production. He also has the best plus-minus rating of any Stars defenseman averaging over 21 minutes a night (+4) and he leads the team in blocked shots (110). Daley has also been a regular on the power play. The evenness of his contributions and smoothness of his game have made him easy to overlook at times, but he has been a critical cog in the Stars’ machine.

Willie Mitchell, D, Los Angeles –
Mitchell has been a rock for the Kings, playing a sound, physical game and utilizing his long reach to shut down opposing forwards on a nightly basis. He has helped power the league’s second stingiest defense and found himself more comfortable supporting the Kings’ budding offense at times as well. In last night’s 3-0 shutout of Calgary, Mitchell turned in his typical outstanding defense and also produced the game-winning goal. Two of his five goals are game-winners and he has even been rewarded with sporadic power-play time for his play at even strength and his reliability with the puck. Mitchell leads a heavy shot-blocking team by a wide margin – his 130 blocks are 22 more than second-placed Rob Scuderi’s total. His long reach, formidable frame and incredible consistency have made him a big part of Los Angeles’ success this season.

Martin Hanzal, C, Phoenix Coyotes
While his higher-scoring linemates have scooped up what little attention has been placed on the Coyotes in the news media, Hanzal has been vital to Phoenix’s campaign. The towering two-way center leads the Coyotes in hits with 221, which ranks him fifth in the Western Conference. Hanzal has almost incomparable range and reach defensively, excelling from the forecheck to center ice to the grimy areas of the Coyotes’ zone. He has proven himself as a true shutdown center and a net-front presence with respectable hands. Hanzal plays in all situations and has turned in the most productive offensive campaign of his career on a per-game basis as well as set a career high in plus-minus with a plus-10 rating.

Joe Pavelski, C, San Jose Sharks
One thing that the Sharks front office did not misdiagnose was that they had seven top-six forwards last season. Making Pavelski a top-six fixture has paid dividends this season as he has set a career high in goals with 29, and been second on the squad in plus-minus to only captain Joe Thornton (Pavelski’s +14 is also a career high). Pavelski has proven a more capable finisher and consistent player than the outgoing Devin Setoguchi while also fleshing out his two-way game a bit this season. Pavelski is tied for second in power-play goals on the team and has been one of just two Sharks to score shorthanded this season, demonstrating his versatility and value across all situations.

Pacific Division Notes

The Kings blanked Calgary 3-0 at the Saddledome to move Jonathan Quick back into a tie for the league lead in shutouts with the Blues’ Brian Elliot. Shutout No. 9 for Quick sets a Kings single-season record, held previously by Rogie Vachon … The Stars pounced on the Oilers as Michael Ryder scored twice and got in on the third goal with an assist in Dallas’s 3-1 win. The Stars swept the Oilers this season. Reilly Smith was in the Stars’ lineup but Radek Dvorak, Mark Fistric and Eric Nystrom were not … The Ducks beat the Sharks 3-1 in Anaheim. Teemu Selanne scored career goal No. 662, which was his 106th career game-winner, good for fifth all-time. Anaheim sent Kyle Palmieri back to Syracuse for the AHL Playoffs … If the Sharks miss the playoffs, they might point to Anaheim’s beating them in five of six meetings this year. San Jose got T.J. Galiardi back after a six-game absence last night but lost Douglas Murray to a lower-body injury. Murray is not expected to play against Phoenix tonight … The Coyotes’ Radim Vrbata and Adrian Aucoin both practiced Wednesday and seem like fine bets to play Thursday.