A former first-round NHL Draft p ick, T.J. Oshie of the St. Louis Blues is a tough, physical hockey player who should come into his own on an improving team. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
We all know about Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and the other superstars of the NHL, but who are the players who fly under the radar? In preparation for the 2010-11 NHL season, we look at eight guys you might not think about who are definitely on a need-to-know basis.
Yes, NBC, we all know NHL superstars Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin don't get along. And we know that, because of this, the Penguins will be playing in another NHL Winter Classic come January, despite the fact that about 15 other teams that haven't yet had the honor could potentially host the game.
We all know the Penguins are playing the Capitals not because they have a vibrant fan base these days, but because there's a certain No. 8 from Russia on the team, and you can just milk the bloody hell out of that.
We know, we know.
But what we don't know -- or at least, what most of the American sports-loving public doesn't know -- are the guys beyond the Crosvechkin power duo in the East. We're not talking about Henrik Sedin or Steven Stamkos or Patrick Kane or Ilya Kovalchuk either. We're talking about the guys that somehow, someway fly under the radar.
Whether that's because they're young and still unknown or because they make more than $5 million a season and are perennial All-Stars and they're still unknown, we see it as a necessary service to provide to the hockey viewing public.
So, here at SB Nation, we've put together a list of players to watch in 2010-11 - the players who should be household names and the players who someday, if all goes according to plan, will be household names.
NEEDS MORE SPOTLIGHT
Here are four established NHL players who may make big money but aren't necessarily as popular as they should be.
When a player makes almost $8 million a season and has done so over the last five year, it can be tough to convince people that he's flying under the radar. Hell, maybe it's the fact that I'm biased to the Eastern teams -- I'll admit it, it's the truth, if only due to the fact that I live in the East and I like sleeping when Western teams play -- and he's played a good chunk of his career down in Dallas.
Then again, he signed that big contract as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning, where he played most of his career, not that Tampa is really on the national stage too often.
In any event, Richards flies under my radar. And why is that, besides the fact that he plays in a smaller hockey market? In exactly 700 NHL games, he's scored 639 points. Injuries aside, he's just eight goals away from the 200th in his career, which he'll obviously score this year. In the off chance his team makes the playoffs, which unfortunately hasn't happened nearly enough in recent years, he's even a bit better -- just under a point per game with 62 goals in 63 games.
He's a leader, a veteran and a really, really nice guy. He should be a star, and no, there's no pun intended there.
Check out this search at Hockey Reference, thanks to Pension Plan Puppets. It's a look at players younger than 20 in the last five seasons who have played more than 60 games in a season, sorted by points per game in those seasons. Crosby, Ovechkin, Crosby, Stamkos, Kopitar.
Good company, I'd say. Kopitar isn't exactly a young guy anymore as he preps for his fifth NHL season, but he is finally on a good team. The Kings are a playoff team and a threat in the Pacific Division these days, and without Kopitar's scoring touch, it's hard to imagine where the team would be.
He's played in all 82 games in each of the last three seasons and a year ago he scored 0.99 points per game, helped along by 34 goals. Kopitar is good at hockey.
They call him Kaptain Koivu in the Twin Cities, and unfortunately, he's another guy that flies under the radar because of where he plays. Yes, Minnesota is indeed a great hockey market, but to say that they get the national exposure they deserve would be a bold face lie.
Sure, they not such a great team and that contributes to their players being largely ignored.
Koivu signed a ridiculous $47.25 million contract over the summer, and while it was indeed a confusing deal at the time, at the end of the day, he ranks about 20th in cap hit in the NHL and about 20th points in the NHL.
But as is the case with most two-way forwards, you can't define Koivu's game by points alone. He's a leader, and you could also throw other cliches in here, like "he's clutch."
Much like a lot of these players we've included so far, it might be tough to call Timonen a guy who hides in the shadows when he makes nearly $7 million a season. If you ask most people to guess what he makes in a year, though, I doubt they'd spit that number back at you.
After all, not only does Timonen hide in the shadows in the NHL as a whole, but he also hides under the radar on his own team. Thanks, Chris Pronger.
Kimmo routinely puts together impeccable seasons, though. He's done it for 10 years and for two different teams. He can play every role on a club, he'll play 20 minutes every single night, and most importantly, he rarely makes a mistake.
For $7 million a year, though, he probably shouldn't make many mistakes.
ON THE RISE
And now, four up-and-coming NHL players who should be on your radar.
If you like tough, physical hockey, you're probably a T.J. Oshie fan. He's one of those guys that goes out every game and lays it all on the line, but unlike many other players of that ilk, he's not just a hard body. He can do some things with the puck, too.
He was a first round draft pick in 2004 and hasn't really come into his own, but now that the Blues are getting better and expect to make a run at the postseason this year, one should expect Oshie to be right in the midst of it all. He has a laser for a shot, can stick handle with the best of them and superb presence on the ice makes him a fantastic playmaker.
Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers
You've likely seen Giroux on the YouTubes, probably with some dazzling shootout moves. While he's wowed much of the league with his incredible ability to dangle, that's really only the tip of the iceberg. With some bad luck in terms of his spot in the Flyers lineup and perhaps a bit of a sophomore slump, he didn't put up the numbers many expected last year.
Then again, it was his first full-length NHL season, so he can get a pass on that. Giroux has the ability to create space for his teammates before feeding them with a beautiful pass, and if he plays with Nik Zherdev or an bigger and much improved James van Riemsdyk in 2010-11, he's going to rack up the assists and probably show up on YouTube a hell of a lot more.
Everybody knows Carlson for his golden goal against Canada in last year's World Junior Championships, but as he gets more of a shot at the NHL level this coming season with the Caps, we're sure people will quickly learn his name for his professional talents.
Carlson isn't much of a goal scorer, so he's not going to wow people on the blue line like Mike Green does when it comes to goals. He's certainly an assist machine, though. He also played just 22 games in the NHL last year and didn't see much ice in those games, so there should be no alarm that he only put up six points.
He dominated the AHL, where he spent most of the season and ultimately won a Calder Cup with Hershey, putting up 39 points in 48 games. To say he's transitioned well from juniors to the pro game is an understatement and if you think he'll put together a fine rookie season with the Caps and some of their pure goal scorers, then, well... you'd be right.
Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars
Entering his sophomore season, Benn looks to improve on a ridiculous rookie campaign. Any player that scores more than 20 goals as a first-year player is obviously going to turn some heads, and with a natural goal scorer like Benn, the hype among Stars fans is certainly warranted.
He's a big kid that can have his way with defensemen, and while he's not the type of player who will go into the corners and grind, he will use his frame as he drives to the net.
Benn's a future superstar, and depending on a few things in Big D this year, he could potentially reach 30 goals.