Snobs. Every sport has them. People who insist that there are unsung heroes, ignored by the media and completely under-valued. People who watch minor league and Junior games, then exclaim "I knew he was going to be good five years ago!" when a player unexpectedly hits the big time. People who care more about Sergio Busquets and Josh Sitton than Lionel Messi and Aaron Rodgers.
You know, snobs.
On a case by case basis, I am one of those people. One of those cases is in the sport of hockey, where I am much more enamored with two-way players and off the puck movement than I am with pretty moves and goals. As a child, I idolized the Grind Line of Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby and Darren McCarty. I saved up my allowance for a year to buy an authentic McCarty jersey. My love for this type of player is very deeply ingrained.
Ryan Kesler has been well known as an up-and-coming two-way player for years by those who watch hockey religiously, but he finally became well known to the public at large after his performance at the 2010 Winter Olympics, where he was fantastic for the United States.
The Vancouver Canucks would choke later that season as the Vancouver Canucks often do in the playoffs, but it was hard not to notice Kesler's rising star.
Coming into the 2010-11 season, Kesler was seen as a potential Selke Trophy dark horse, coming in behind the two favorites -- and, eventually, this year's other two finalists -- Jonathan Toews and Pavel Datsyuk. Kesler was without a doubt one of the best defensive forwards and most complete forwards of the year, but he was generally considered behind Toews and Datsyuk in terms of his all-around game.
Then, he scored 41 goals.
Kesler actually had two less points this season than he had a year ago, caused by a combination of shooting more and playing with inferior linemates for most of the season. However, that 41 goal number seriously sticks out, especially in a season where Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby did not put up big numbers for various reasons.
And yet, despite that big goal number, the story remains the Sedin twins. Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin have been the best players on the Canucks roster for years and their continued level of high play allows them to have the kind of big-name status that Kesler has not yet achieved.
Those who are hockey die-hards are just as aware of Kesler's talents as they are of the Sedins', but to the public at large, Kesler is a third wheel.
Ask a random person on the street who the Sedins are and they will likely say "hockey players." Ask a random person on the street who Ryan Kesler is and their response will likely be something along the lines of "Oh god, where have I heard that name... don't tell me..."
The good news is that Kesler doesn't get quite the raw deal that the unsung heroes get in other sports. Hockey is a niche sport, and those who follow it typically aren't just casual passers-by. Instead, hockey fans immerse themselves in the game -- they become, more often than not, students of the game. This extends to the media.
As a result, players and things that could otherwise fly under the radar seem to get more face time and more attention. Guys like Ryan Kesler get talked about more than a similar player in another sport might. He isn't nearly as marginalized as the defensive specialist in basketball, interior offensive linemen in football, or efficient-yet-unspectacular all-around players in baseball, for example.
But he still has serious snob appeal. The Sedins are the stars and often the focus of hockey broadcasts, while it's often Ryan Kesler doing much more to affect the outcome of the game than the superstar twins.
Take Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals, for example. Kesler didn't score the game-winning goal or provide the first assist, but it was his hard work and skill that created the scoring opportunity in the first place. The list of forwards who can react to the exposed puck in the way Kesler did, complete the steal, then make the pass he did is very small. The aforementioned Datsyuk and Toews make up a sizable chunk of it.
Kesler did more than just that in Game 1, though. His 59 percent faceoff win rate was the best on his team and better than both of the Boston Bruins' primary face-off men, David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron. It was also significantly higher than Henrik Sedin, who won just 32 percent of his faceoffs. Kesler also led all forwards in ice time while leading all players, period, in penalty kill time on the ice. He might be the best traditional shutdown center in the league, and he scored 41 regular season goals on top of that.
Though, despite his heroics, Kesler was not the main subject of post-game chatter after Game 1, nor will he be the main subject of pre-game chatter leading up to Game 2. Raffi Torres' goal, Henrik Sedin's poor all-around performance, the great performances of both goalkeepers, Alex Burrows' bite, and the matchup of Zdeno Chara against the Sedin line will all be bigger stories.
As a hockey snob and a huge Ryan Kesler fan, I don't mind at all. The fact that a Selke Trophy finalist with 41 goals who is also a favorite for the Conn Smythe can fly under the radar to any degree is crazy, but Kesler's lack of flash relative to others makes it predictable.
When Kesler finally goes mainstream, I'm going to announce to everyone that I loved him when he was way underground.
The Stanley Cup Finals are ongoing, as the Vancouver Canucks battle the Boston Bruins. For full coverage on the Finals, stick with our Stanley Cup Finals hub, our Canucks blog, Nucks Misconduct, and our Bruins blog, Stanley Cup of Chowder.