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Five under-the-radar people who make a big impact
Posted: Monday October 22, 2007 12:47PM; Updated: Monday October 22, 2007 5:23PM
In a hockey world that often obsesses with the obvious -- hey, that Sidney Crosby sure is talented -- it is time to celebrate five people in and around the NHL who, in big ways and small, simply continue to make their teams better.
The Stealth Five:
No. 1: Hakan Andersson, Detroit Red Wings director of European scouting. General manager Ken Holland gets the credit, and occasional blame, for the state of the Wings, who remain an elite team on an annual basis despite rarely having a high draft choice. (Since 1993 Detroit has selected in the top 20 only once: Jakub Kindl, in 2005, at No. 19.) But even with the retirements of Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull and Igor Larionov and the departure of Brendan Shanahan and others in the merry roundelay of sports, the cupboard never seems bare in Detroit because of the exemplary work of Andersson, a name known only to puckheads. His assessment of European talent is akin to the keen eye of David Conte, New Jersey's celebrated director of scouting, who keeps the Devils stocked with American-born players.
Andersson doesn't ever get a crack at the Ovechkins and Malkins, but he perceives value in later rounds that other teams miss. In 1998 he recommended Pavel Datsyuk, the Russian who was taken with the 171st pick. He followed that up with Henrik Zetterberg, who was drafted 210th in 1999 and made a name three years later while starring for Sweden at the 2002 Olympics. Niklas Kronwall, taken 29th in 2000, will be a core defenseman if he can ever stay healthy. Maybe Jiri Hudler, the gifted Czech drafted 58th overall in 2002, might never be the high-end forward the Wings envisioned, but at No. 95 Detroit picked Valtteri Filppula, another key forward, in the same draft. In 2004 Andersson recommended Johan Franzen at No. 97. His track record in a hit-and-miss business is astounding.
No. 2: Chris Kelly, Ottawa Senators forward. On a team with the first-line flash of Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley and (at least sometimes) Daniel Alfredsson, Kelly is often overlooked. Not, of course, by general manager Bryan Murray. Last season when the Senators were foundering with injuries to Spezza, Mike Fisher and Antoine Vermette, Murray, then the coach, shifted Kelly, the third-line left winger, to center on the top line. He handled the job splendidly, bolstering the Senators at a time when they could have slipped to near the bottom of Eastern Conference playoff teams. Kelly finished the season with a career-high 15 goals and 38 points, relatively modest numbers that belied his importance.
John Paddock, the former assistant who now is the Senators' head coach, is no less enamored of the third-year man. While many players seem willing to cheat on the offensive side of the puck in search of a scoring opportunity, Kelly, now playing with Vermette and Chris Neil, never puts himself out of position.
No. 3: Benoit Allaire, New York Rangers goaltender coach. No, he is not François Allaire, the renowned goalie coach for the Anaheim Ducks, who, along with the late Warren Strelow, essentially pioneered the role. Benoit is his younger brother, part of a solid staff that supports Rangers coach Tom Renney. Allaire's current prize pupil is Henrik Lundqvist, who should help hold New York together while its current crop of high-priced forwards gels. Allaire hasn't remade Lundqvist, but he has helped ease the transition from the European game, keeping him a little deeper in his nets -- not usually an issue with Swedish goalies: Think Tommy Salo, who played so deep in his net that he looked like a gopher peeking from his hole -- and improving his reads.
While François helped develop butterfly-style goalies Patrick Roy and J.S. Giguère, Benoit teaches more of a combination style. Allaire calls it the "hybrid." Does it work? Ask Nikolai Khabibulin, a former Allaire acolyte in Phoenix. All Khabibulin did after Allaire's training was win a Stanley Cup with Tampa Bay.