The Role Players of the NHL
The Role Players of the NHL
You know who they are: the players on your favorite NHL team who might not be the big stars, whose jerseys are rarely worn by fans at games, whose names may not be the most familiar--but players who make contributions and who matter to their teams.
There's at least one on every team and to get some advice on other role players to include in this slideshow, I sought input from my fellow Rant Sports NHL writers. Many of them provided more than one name for a team, but I pared it down to just one guy per team, although of course that does not mean he is the only role player on the squad. I am aware that not all 30 teams are included--suggestions for future inclusions in more slide shows about role players on other teams are welcome!
Some of these players may hold leadership roles. Others may be veterans helping younger guys learn the ropes and find their way. Still others might be the kind of guy who inspires a little hope in fans every time he gets the puck.
The list is populated exclusively by forwards and defensemen. That's not to discount the contributions goalies make to their teams, but the fact is that there are generally just two of them and the usage frequency of the backup goalie varies by team. It's not the same for netminders as it is for their thin-stick-wielding teammates.
With all that said, here's the list of role guys in the NHL.
Anaheim Ducks: Francois Beauchemin
Suggested by Michelle Drinnenberg
Beauchemin is doing his second tour of duty with the Ducks after a brief stint in Toronto. Previously he had been with the Ducks from 2005 to 2009. The 32-year-old defenseman was on the 2007 Stanley Cup champion Ducks team and, aside from his injury-shortened 2008-09 season and trade-shortened 2010-11 return to California, he's always put up at least 20 points in each of his seasons with Anaheim. Plus, he got a new three-year contract extension in January 2012, so he will be with Anaheim for some time more.
Boston Bruins: Chris Kelly
When dreaming up the idea for this slideshow, Randy said that Kelly was his inspiration for seeking out other similar players. Now with the Bruins, Kelly has been used to being further down the lineup for centers since his days with the Ottawa Senators.
Still, he's had productive seasons, always having at least 23 points to his name per season while playing in Canada's capital. In his first full season with Boston, he was named one of the alternate captains, sharing duties with Andrew Ference. For a third-liner and a guy new to the fold, that's a big deal. He was one of the six members of the team to score more than 20 goals in 2011-12 and finished the season with 39 points.
Chicago Blackhawks: Dave Bolland
Suggested by Krista Golden
Bolland has been given the nickname The Rat because of his Ken Linseman-like playing style. His tendency to improve his offensive performance led to a Most Improved Player award during his junior years and he has never played outside the Chicago organization since the end of his OHL era. While playing a checking role with the Blackhawks, he was part of the 2010 Stanley Cup champion team.
He scored 37 points in both of his two most recent seasons, plus he's signed through 2013-14, so the Rat will be hanging around the Madhouse on Madison for at least some more time.
Colorado Avalanche: Shane O'Brien
Suggested by Derek Kessinger
O'Brien is the kind of defenseman who can score or help out, but who can also drop the gloves if need be. His most productive NHL season on both ends of the ledger saw him put up 21 points and 154 penalty minutes as part of Tampa Bay in 2007-08, which is a far cry from the 319 penalty minutes he put up in the AHL one year.
After two years in Vancouver and one in Nashville, he became part of the Avalanche for 2011-12. His 20 point, 105 penalty minute performance that season led to a reward from the Avs: a three-year contract extension, guaranteeing his blend of offense and defense for some time to come.
Edmonton Oilers: Ryan Jones
Suggested by Daniel Lizee
Jones had four big seasons with Miami University before going pro in 2008. After his 2010 waivers acquisition by the Oilers, he's improved his offense from 25 points in his first full season to 33 points in this past campaign. He also registered career highs in goals, assists and points during his two seasons with Edmonton so far. Plus, in 2011, he even had his first hat trick.
There's a reason that Jones is sometimes called Junkman--and it's not just because of baseball pitcher Randy "Junkman" Jones. The Oilers' Jones is known for his 'garbage' goals, but garbage goals are still goals nonetheless. The Junkman has also appeared in a video for You Can Play, which is aimed at stamping out homophobia in sports.
Florida Panthers: Mike Weaver
Suggested by Rob McMahon
Weaver may stand at a mere 5'9"--short for a hockey player, but tall for normal people, perhaps--but he doesn't let his height get to him. Instead, he focuses on the tasks at hand. After spending time in the defunct IHL and the still-active AHL with the Atlanta and Los Angeles organizations, and winning both the IHL Turner Cup and AHL Calder Cup, Weaver got his chance to stop existing in the call-up/send-down area with Vancouver in 2007-08.
He's also been with St. Louis but is now with the Panthers since 2010-11. In those past two seasons, he's registered a career-best 16 points and a career-best 16 assists as well as enjoying his longest playoff run since joining the NHL full-time.
Los Angeles Kings: Matt Greene
Suggested by Tony Moreno
Greene left his college career after three seasons and a trip to the NCAA championship because of his talent, starting out playing for the team that drafted him (Edmonton). Prior to his trade to Los Angeles, he got some more experience getting to the highest championship level when the Oilers went to the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals.
After making his way to SoCal in 2008, being named an alternate captain and getting a five-year contract within mere months of his trade, he set about finding his place. Decreasing his penalty minutes and increasing his offense, he had a 15-point season in 2012 and six more points in the Kings' run to their first Stanley Cup championship.
New Jersey Devils: Stephen Gionta
Suggested by Steve Palumbo
The younger brother of Brian Gionta, who himself once played for the Devils and was called The Rochester Rocket during his tenure, Stephen has been making a name for himself in New Jersey too. He's been called the Rochester Pocket Rocket and has been in the Devils organization since he tried out for the AHL Albany River Rats after his graduation from Boston College.
On the ice, the pocket rocket has had seasons ranging from 11 to 34 points with the AHL Devils, plus his first NHL goal in the season finale of the 2011-12 regular season. It was in the 2012 playoffs and the Devils' run to the Stanley Cup Finals where Gionta began to shine, putting up seven points in 24 games--including a multi-point game in the conference final.
Philadelphia Flyers: Eric Wellwood
Suggested by Jake Pavorsky, who added: "He's yet to have a full season with the Flyers, but in limited time he has been fantastic. I refer to him as the "Energizer bunny", easily the quickest guy on the ice at all times, and just a grinder on both ends of the ice."
Another younger brother (to Kyle Wellwood of Winnipeg), Wellwood has only played 27 games to date with the Flyers and put up 10 points in that time, but he's put up more than 20 points in two seasons with the AHL Adirondack Phantoms, plus he was part of the 2009 and 2010 Memorial Cup-winning Windsor Spitfires teams when he was in juniors, so he knows how to win championships. Winning both Memorial Cups is an especially big deal since a player has only a small window of time in his life to possibly win that trophy. Perhaps in the near future, Wellwood's experience will help translate to a Stanley Cup for the Flyers.
Phoenix Coyotes: Boyd Gordon
Suggested by Jaime Eisner
A recent addition to the Coyotes fold and 2002 first-round draft pick, Gordon came to the desert in 2011-12 with championship experience on his resume at two levels. He won the Memorial Cup in 2001 with the Red Deer Rebels and the 2006 Calder Cup with the Hershey Bears. Those notes, plus his experience of generally putting up about 15 points a season while he was with Washington, translated well to the Coyotes. His first season saw him score 23 points, the best since 2006-07, and his eight goals were a career-high. He also enjoyed a 16-game playoff run, his longest since the Calder Cup championship, and is on a two-year contract.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Craig Adams
Suggested by Tony Moreno
This Brunei-born, Harvard-educated forward has two Stanley Cup rings in his collection. He won his first with the team that drafted him, the Carolina Hurricanes (well, they were still the Hartford Whalers when he was drafted), in 2006. This experience was helpful when the Penguins got him off waivers in 2008-09 from Chicago and gave him a place on the fourth line. In the Pittsburgh run to the Stanley Cup, he appeared in 24 games, had five points and added another ring to his collection.
Plus, in each of his three full seasons with Pittsburgh, he's put up at least ten points and was most recently rewarded in June 2011 with a two-year contract extension.
St. Louis Blues: Barret Jackman
Suggested by Tony Moreno
Picked by the Blues in the first round of the 1999 draft, defenseman Jackman has never played outside the St. Louis organization since leaving his junior career behind following 2000-01. Before graduating from the WHL, he was named the youngest captain in Regina Pats history. He won the Calder Trophy for best rookie in 2003 and had a career-high season for assists and points in 2006-07. In the past two season, he has scored 13 points each time, the vast majority of them assists. He is also an alternate captain for the Blues.
Washington Capitals: Brooks Laich
Suggested by Matt Speck
A versatile center for Washington, Laich made his permanent debut with the Capitals after helping the AHL Hershey Bears win the Calder Cup. He kept beating his own career-best totals in various statistics through his first few years in Washington and though his production has cooled off just slightly--he had 41 points this past season--he continues to play an important role in the nation's capital. Plus, he's the Capitals' NHLPA player representative and the kind of guy who will stop on a bridge to help two fans change a flat tire, then apologize for an early playoff exit, as he did in 2010.