QOTW answers: You want more love for Mason, Parise, Keith, Krejci

January, 14, 2009
Some players just don't get the attention they deserve in the NHL. We left it to the ESPN.com puckheads to make it right in our Question of the Week, asking them to state their case for their most underrated player.

Let's take a look:

synergy4412: No question it's Boston's Marc Savard. You could easily say Parise, Krejci, or Setoguchi 'cause they are having breakout seasons, but Savard year in and year out always puts up ton of assists and points. I think his name has to be mentioned alongside the best passers in the game (Thornton, Crosby, Malkin, etc.)

My take: Well, he's got no bigger backer than Don Cherry from "Hockey Night in Canada." And you are right, synergy4412, Savard doesn't get the same love as some of the game's great passers, and yet his statistics over the past few seasons very much prove he should be considered in that group. Savard took a hit in perception as a youngster in terms of his defensive play and alleged "selfish" attitude. They sometimes eat their young in Canadian NHL markets, and Savard needed a fresh start away from Calgary. He's had to work his entire career to get rid of that stigma. It's time the whole hockey world acknowledges what a great player he is.

Pengwin7: Duncan Keith. In my hockey world, there is nothing more valuable than a guy who consistently is a "plus" player, especially significantly better than his teammates. This is the 2nd straight year that Keith has posted a remarkable +/- and this year he has 18 even-strength points at mid-season! 2nd only for D to Shea Weber, 20 pts. Keith should have been an All-Star selection. He has, unfortunately, become even more hidden from casual hockey fans when the Hawks signed Brian Campbell this season. He gets my vote for best "under the radar" player.

AH185: Duncan Keith has become one of the best defensemen in the NHL without much fanfare. He averages 26 minutes of ice time a game and is always matched against the opposition's top line. He is a plus-22, which is 5th in the league and no one outside of Boston is ranked ahead of him. He contributes on offense with 25 pts in 40 games. He should have been an all star for sure, and should get some Norris trophy consideration.

My take: The Campbell point is an interesting one. If you asked Steve Yzerman and his Team Canada brain trust right now who they would have ranked higher on the list for the 2010 Olympics, I wonder if Keith would be ahead of Campbell. Like Pengwin7 pointed out, Keith has also been a plus-player, which far too often gets overlooked in favor of points. If the Hawks go on a long playoff run, the rest of North America will find out much more about him.

biester79: Who is the best defenseman on the best team in hockey? Dan Boyle -- no, he's been great, especially on the offensive end. Rob Blake -- no, he's turned the clock back a few years and is having a good season. The answer is Marc-Edouard Vlasic. He plays the most minutes, leads all Sharks D in plus/minus, is used in all situations, and is only 21 years old despite being in his 3rd season. He is the most underrated player in the league. He is quietly turning into the league's next Nicklas Lidstrom.

My take: The best part of the Sharks acquiring Blake and Boyle last summer was it allowed Vlasic to grow into his game at his own pace this season without having to try to carry the team. Well, it turns out maybe he was ready to do just that. He's the best defensive player on the Sharks, and that's saying a lot. He simply doesn't make many mistakes. What's more, he's missed only one game -- that's right, only one -- since entering the NHL at age 19 two and half years ago. Amazing.

orian3182: Zach Parise. The guy is on pace to maybe have a 90 goal season. He gets no attention whatsoever and is the only player from the Devils to make the team. No one takes that team seriously anymore since Brodeur went down and Parise is setting the pace to a career high season.

fincognito: It's definitely Zach Parise! The New Jersey Devils have been infamous for their defensive play. Then, when Martin Brodeur went down, everyone thought that the Devils were finished. That was until Zach Parise stepped up and is slowly becoming one of the best NHL forwards. He is 5th in the League in Goals, 5th in the League in Points, and is becoming the only 100pt scorer in Devils History. He is on pace for 50 Goals ... Because of Martin Brodeur in Goal, he has been over-shadowed by the future Hall of Famer. Now that Brodeur is not back there, the Devils have relied on his play on and off the ice. He puts forth 110-percent each and every shift and even Coach Sutter admits, there is no one that works harder than Zach. The NHL is too busy focusing on the likes of Ovechkin, Malkin and Crosby that they don't realize that there is something special in New Jersey and in Zach Parise!

adam_hauptli: Zach Parise gets no love from ESPN. I have said that for 3 years, however last week he did get a nice write up on ESPN.com. But when it comes to hockey highlights on ESPN, we never get to see his goals. They mention the goals but never show them in the highlight. Something needs to change there. Zach may not score the flashy goals some of the other guys score but he scores goals the way we try to teach the little guys in youth leagues to do it. He is always around the net to bang home a rebound or get a nice feed on the door step because he is in the right place at the right time. He works harder than most [of] the guys in the league and it shows because he is a top 5 guy in points in the league but he does it so quietly because his goals and assists are right around the net instead of dangling all the way down the ice.

My take: Well gee, thanks, adam hauptli, that was indeed my "write-up" on Parise that you are referring to. And that was the point: to give him some national attention because he really hasn't got it since he's been in the NHL. The thing that really struck me when I was interviewing people for that column was what coach Brent Sutter, who doesn't easily give compliments, said to me about Parise. "He's a coach's player," Sutter said. "He's someone you love to coach because every day he does what's asked of him. He leaves it all out there. He works his tail off game in, game out; practice in, practice out. He's the first on the ice, the last one off. He's just one of those guys that you love to coach because you know what you're going to get from him every day." Enough said!

9wings19: Jiri Hudler in Detroit. With 16 goals and 18 assists, he's already surpassed his previous career high in goals (15) and is well on his way to passing his career best in points (42). More importantly, just watching him play it's clear he's playing both harder and smarter hockey than he has at any previous point in his career. On a deep and talented Wings team he has worked himself into position to be a top-6 forward.

My take: This is a great point. On lesser teams, Hudler would have received more ice time, especially on the first power-play unit, to pile up points. But that's what makes the Wings the model organization they are. Players earn their time and work their way up the chain. This is a breakthrough season for him and he'll get to play even more next season if either Johan Franzen or Marian Hossa can't be re-signed. Then it won't be just Wings fans who realize how soft Hudler's hands are.

The_Ken_Hollands: As a Detroit Red Wings faithful, it pains me to admit this, but Bobby Ryan. 26 pts in 25 games. Many of those games he saw limited ice time. Moreover, he has excelled in the absence of Teemu Selanne.

My take: Tells you how much Bobby Ryan has been coming on: He might end up winning the rookie NHL scoring race, despite not playing his first NHL game of the season until Nov. 16 after he was finally called up from the AHL. Every time I see him play, I'm reminded of one of the all-time quotes from former Ducks GM Brian Burke after he drafted Ryan second overall in the 2005 NHL draft in Ottawa. "We were surprised he was still there at No. 2," Burke quipped. Sidney Crosby, of course, had gone first overall. Funny stuff from Burke. For a while, however, I wondered if the Ducks still screwed up that pick, given that Carey Price went fifth overall, Anze Kopitar 11th and Marc Staal 12th. But now Ryan is finally showing us he's the real deal, a power forward with hands who will look good alongside Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf for years to come.

danman121289: How about the entire roster of the Phoenix Coyotes? The team's financial difficulties have been well documented, but no one seems to talk much about the play of the team itself. They are 11-6-3 since the start of December, their veterans are playing well (Doan, Jovanovski, Jokinen), their younger players are developing well (Mueller, Boedker), and they are right in the thick of the Western playoff race (currently in 7th, and 2 points out of a tie for 5th). Money problems aside, not many people expected this team to do much. And even with that distraction, they are still winning games.

My take: If you would have told me back in September that the rebuilding Coyotes, one of the youngest teams in the NHL, would be sitting in a playoff spot in the tough Western Conference in mid-January, I would have told you to give me some of that stuff you're on. What a job by Wayne Gretzky and his staff. And yes, some young players on that team deserve more recognition. Mikkel Boedker, especially; I think he will be a huge star in this league. Keep it going, Wayne!

willyd158: David Krejci is the second highest scorer on the Eastern Conference's best team. I acknowledge that other players are also being overlooked, nods to Parise and Mason especially, but you need to look at what Krejci brings to the Bruins. This guy has 46 points in 42 games. He is centering arguably the hottest line the NHL, he has revived Michael Ryder's goal scoring abilities, and he plays in all situations. Did I mention his 46 points are good for 11th in the entire league (tied with a few others)? He has outscored over half of the Eastern Conference All-Star team, and he wasn't even named to the YOUNGSTARS GAME! Just how much more overlooked can you be? Watch this kid play and see how he slows down the game and I guarantee you will agree.

daigneaultc: I may be biased as a Bruins fan, but David Krejci is the most underrated player in the NHL. He's challenging Marc Savard for the team lead in points, and no one knows about him. He made two spectacular passes to set up both Ryder goals in Saturday's win over Carolina. But throughout the season, he's been making those plays. He's such an unselfish player (maybe following in Marc Savard's footsteps). If you watch his highlights, he controls the speed of play when he's on the ice. For example, when he could've pushed the puck up the ice for a 2 on 1, he slowed the puck down to let a third player jump up to make it a 3 on 1, and they were able to capitalize with a goal.

My take: I thought this guy really came on late last season and was one of Boston's best players in its seven-game, first-round playoff series loss to Montreal. So I'm not surprised he's broken through like he has this season. His no-look, backhand pass to Michael Ryder last week showed you his offensive creativity and vision. He's a magic man with the puck. Now, I will say this: Krejci benefits greatly from the fact that opposing teams still put their best checkers against Marc Savard's line. That means Krejci gets a little more offensive freedom to do his stuff. Still, he'll be a 70- to 80-point man in Boston for many years to come.

cblueohiou1: you kidding? Steve Mason. Look at the unbelievable stops he makes every night ... think about where the jackets are now (close to a playoff spot) to where they would be without him (cellar of the west). This kid is unbelievable.

100Habbie: Steve Mason. I acknowledge he's gotten tons of attention for a great first half, but it's not even close to enough. Rookie of the Month for November and December is a nice start, and that's led to some discussion about the Calder Trophy. I challenge anyone to suggest a better candidate for the Vezina Trophy at this point. I will go further and challenge anyone to suggest a better candidate for the Hart Trophy.

BWBuckeye: I can't believe there's even a debate about this. STEVE MASON. The kid had played THREE professional games before his call-up and he leads the league in EVERY statistical category for goalies. He's shut out Washington TWICE (stopping nearly 20 Ovechkin shots in the process), beaten San Jose, Anaheim, Philly, and just about everyone other than the Wings. Even if he got hurt today he should win the Calder, and if he gets the CBJ to the playoffs, the Vezina should be a lock too.

MUTiger0834: I think to be in consideration for this accolade, one has to see where the individual's respective NHL club would be without their play this season. My answer ... Steve Mason, goalie for the Columbus Blue Jackets. Coming from a CBJ fan, the team would be nowhere near contention for a potential playoff berth without the stellar play from their rookie goaltender. Yes, Rick Nash is having a good season (17 G, 22 A), but defense and goaltending are the difference makers in winning Stanley Cups.

Now I am not saying that Columbus is going to be kissing the Cup at season's end (even though that would be nice), but there is potential and future hope with all the young talent and prospects. And even to add a little more to the cause, Mason is carrying a team without six of its regulars, and that could easily be more commonly referred to as the "walking wounded." It is just a shame that the league leader in each of the main goaltending categories is not on the NHL All-Star roster.

My take: Well, we keep the most popular answer for last, and how can anyone disagree? Mind you, ask any Canadian hockey fan and they'll tell you they already knew about Mr. Mason after his gold-medal performance at the World Junior Championship last year. No doubt, however, he is by far the most important factor in the Columbus Blue Jackets staying afloat this season. Carey Price gets the most support for the No. 3 goalie job on Canada's Olympic team next year behind Roberto Luongo and Martin Brodeur, but I think Mr. Mason will have a say in that. The Jackets have a franchise goalie, and hockey fans in Columbus will find out just how much of a difference that makes. Enjoy!

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer



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