Now's the time for unlikely heroes
Canucks have three players who could be this year's Johan Franzen
Oilers need Fernando Pisani to reprise his surprise emergence of 2006
Devils look like Cup team and scrappy David Clarkson may play a key role
Marty Brodeur setting the all-time mark for wins by a goaltender prompted much musing along historical lines and rightfully so. Yet, this is also the time of year when players far removed from all-time status often play vital roles for teams fighting to survive beyond the regular schedule, or once the playoffs commence.
Last spring's revelation was Johan Franzen of the Detroit Red Wings. He went from being a nice complimentary piece on a contending team to a prolific scorer on a championship team. With "The Mule" in mind, let's consider some candidates to fill this year's list of in-the-moment momentum makers.
Right now, the Vancouver Canucks seem to have a lock on the proverbial secondary scoring contributors. Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows and Mason Raymond all have matched their single-season highs in goals, set last year at 21, 23 and 10 tallies respectively. Burrows is the hottest of the trio, netting eight goals in the Canucks' last nine games. Raymond scored for the first time in 27 tilts in a 3-0 win over the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night. It came on a hard charging rush by Kesler, whose 30 assists and 51 points are by far his career bests.
If the Canucks' trio of options makes them a legitimate Cup contender, the Northwest Division rival Edmonton Oilers are hoping that someone of the same ilk gets hot for them just so they can make the playoffs. They need a Fernando Pisani-like run from their Stanley Cup Final year of 2006 when the Edmonton native scored 14 times in 24 playoff games. His regular-season best remains the 18 from that campaign.
Pisani has missed most of this season due to a fractured ankle suffered in mid-November. But, maybe he will be the one who shines again as the Oilers make their annual push. He scored in their game against Colorado on Thursday night, his second goal in 10 games back from the IR. If not Pisani, a guy who fits the mold of an under-the-radar key contributor is Kyle Brodziak. He's big and strong with good hands and is very proficient in the faceoff circle. He's just the type of situational player who could be a difference-maker down the stretch for the Oilers.
In the Eastern Conference, the New Jersey Devils have had so many storylines to follow. Zach Parise's emergence as a scoring star; Patrik Elias becoming the franchise's all-time leading scorer; leadership and production from captain Jamie Langenbrunner; and, oh yeah, that fellow Brodeur. Still, if the Devils go deep into the postseason -- and I believe they have all the makings of a championship team -- look for David Clarkson to be one of those unheralded types who find the headlines. He's a scrappy checking winger who has improved on his rookie season in every category this year. He's an overachiever when you consider that he was an undrafted signee by the Devils out of the OHL -- the perfect profile for an unlikely playoff hero.
For the Montreal Canadiens, a return from injury by players such as Guillaume Latendresse might be just what they need to stop their free-fall in the standings. The Habs have tumbled all the way to seventh, but in his second game back after missing nearly two months, Latendresse scored a pair of goals. The big, burly winger with the soft hands could be the perfect tonic for a team reeling while it tries to reestablish its identity.
It seems to happen every year, unlikely heroes emerge when springtime breeds hope all around the NHL and lesser lights shine the brightest.
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