Randy Jones, Drew Stafford

Hockey Day Preview: Top 5 underrated players who will play in Sunday’s games

One of the great things about Hockey Day in America is how it’s going to shine the spotlight on the greatest game on ice for a day. Just take a quick look at the four games lined up and hockey fans will see visions of superstars taking on superstars. You see Alexander Ovechkin cutting to the middle of the ice and firing a shot towards Ryan Miller. Maybe you think of Claude Giroux and Danny Briere coming down on a 2-on-1 against Marc Staal and Henrik Lundqvist. You think of Pavel Datsyuk dangling on Brent Burns in front of a crazy crowd in the State of Hockey. You may picture Duncan Keith trying to escape an intense forecheck from Jordan Staal. Pick a game and there’s plenty of star-power.

But for all the stars that will be in the spotlight on Sunday, there will be plenty of unsung heroes who will play in the shadowst. We’re talking about the guys who are valuable to their team on a nightly basis; the types of players fans passionately love, and opponents hate to deal with. Because for every Patrick Kane or Chris Pronger on a team, there’s a Dave Bolland or Ville Leino helping their team become a successful team.

Here are 5 players to keep an eye on during Hockey Day in America. They may not be the superstars who get all of the publicity, but they’re the guys every team needs if they want to win:

Niklas Hjalmarsson

The Blackhawks rode an absolutely stacked blueline to the Stanley Cup last year and Hjalmarsson was a huge part of it. Sure, there are guys like defending Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith, $7 million man Brian Campbell, and pending free agent Brent Seabrook, but Hjalmarsson is the guy in the top 4 who manages to fly under the radar with many fans outside of Chicago.

Don’t forget, Sharks GM Doug Wilson knew how good he was when the Blackhawks ousted his team from the playoffs last year. He wasted no time signing Hjalmarsson to an offer-sheet forcing the Hawks to choose between him and the goaltender who helped them win their first Stanley Cup in 49 years. Let’s put it this way: Antti Niemi is wearing teal now and Hjalmarsson is in the first year of a deal that will pay him $14 million.

Drew Stafford

One of the best Americans playing on Hockey Day in America, Stafford has started to fulfill the potential that made him the Sabres’ first round pick in the 2004 entry draft. In fact, on the day America celebrates the sport, the former University of North Dakota standout is 3rd among American born players in goals scored. Last weekend he scored his 4th hat trick of the season. FOURTH. Not bad for a guy who averaged about 15 goals per season before this year.

Ryan Callahan

Ryan’s the two-way type player that every team wishes they had on their team. He’d be much higher on the league’s scoring list if it weren’t for a broken hand that caused him to miss 6 weeks of action. Extrapolate his scoring pace and he’d be right up there with his Rangers partner-in-crime Brandon Dubinsky had he been healthy all season (we are contractually obligated to mention Dubinsky whenever Callahan is referenced). His 30 points in 39 games is just a tip of what he can do though. Like Dubinsky, the two-way play and energy he brings to each shift makes him one of the more exciting players to watch. He’s a restricted free agent at the end of the season—so it won’t be long until Glen Sather and the Rangers management show how they really feel about him.

Todd Bertuzzi

It might be weird to see a player with such an infamous past on this list, but somewhere between the Steve Moore incident and Hockeytown, fans may have forgotten that he’s a good hockey player. Since the ugly incident that clearly taints his name every time it’s mentioned, he’s reengineered his game to be a completely different player. Gone are the days when he was flying high with Brendan Morrison andMarkus N aslund as an elite power forward. Instead, he’s become a valuable piece to the Detroit Red Wings machine. He doesn’t score a point-per-game anymore (it’s about half of that), but he still brings much needed grit and hands to an immensely talented team. If the Red Wings want to compete for a Stanley Cup, odds are Todd Bertuzzi will have to be a productive player in his new role.

Nick Schultz

Nick Schultz isn’t going to have the type of stats that jump off the page at you. He has 3 goals, 11 assists, 32 PIMs, and a +1 rating. So what? A guy like that is a dime-a-dozen, right? Wrong.

Watch him play a few games, and each time you’ll notice him more and more. He’s big and he’s nasty—both of which are compliments for a shutdown defenseman. He’s out there against the opponent’s best players—his job is to not screw things up. It’s not a sexy job, but his success this season is one of the big reasons the Minnesota Wild are competing for a playoff spot and not looking to sell off spare parts at the deadline.

Honorary Mentions: Caps forward Brooks Laich, Wild Captain Mikko Koivu, Blackhawks center Dave Bolland, and Flyers defenseman Andrej Meszaros

In case you haven’t committed it to memory, here’s NBC’s schedule for Hockey Day In America.

Avs put big Swedish forward Everberg on waivers

Dennis Everberg, Jason Pominville
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Colorado made a minor roster move on Thursday, putting winger Dennis Everberg on waivers.

Eveberg, 23, made his NHL debut with the Avs last season and had a fairly good rookie season, with 12 points in 55 games. This year, though, his offense was really lacking — Everberg had zero points through his first 15 games, averaging just under nine minutes per night.

The 6-foot-4, 205-pounder originally came to the Avs after a lengthy stint playing for Rogle BK of the Swedish Hockey League, turning heads with a 17-goal, 34-point effort in 47 games during the ’13-14 campaign.

Should he clear waivers, he’ll be off to the club’s AHL affiliate in San Antonio.

As far as Benning is concerned, ‘the Sedins are going to retire as Vancouver Canucks’

Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin
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You may recall over the summer when the Sedin twins were asked by a Swedish news outlet if they’d ever consider waiving their no-trade clauses and playing for a team that wasn’t the Vancouver Canucks.

Their answer? They had no intention — none whatsoever — of leaving Vancouver, even if they were presented with an opportunity to join a Stanley Cup contender.


Yes, there was a but.

They didn’t definitively say they’d refuse to waive. If, for instance, management were to approach them during the final season of their contracts (2017-18), well, maybe they’d have to consider it.

And, so, because it was the summer and there was nothing else to talk about, and because it had only been a short time since the Flames had made the Canucks look so old and slow in the playoffs, it became a topic of conversation among the fans and media.

Today, GM Jim Benning was asked if he’d put an end to the rumors.

“As far as I’m concerned, the Sedins are going to retire as Vancouver Canucks,” Benning told TSN 1040.

Daniel Sedin currently ranks fourth in NHL scoring with 25 points in 23 games. Henrik is tied for 14th with 22 points. Even at 35, they’re still excellent players.

“I don’t know if they’re getting better, but they’re not getting any worse,” said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville on Saturday, after the twins had combined for nine points in beating the defending champs.

It’s also worth noting that there’s far more optimism in Vancouver about the Canucks’ youth. Last year, there was only Bo Horvat to get excited about. This year, there’s Horvat, Jared McCann, Jake Virtanen and Ben Hutton.

True, the youngsters still have a ways to go. And yes, there are still some glaring holes in the Canucks’ lineup — most notably on the blue line, a tough area to address via trade or free agency. 

It may be in Vancouver’s best long-term interests to miss the playoffs this season and get into the draft lottery. 

But you never know, if they hang around a few more years, with a little luck and some good moves by management, the Sedins might not be done chasing the Cup after all.

NHL has no plans to change waiver rules

Manny Malhotra Ryan Stanton
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Even with all the young players that have been healthy scratches this season, don’t expect the NHL to change its waiver rules.

Deputy commissioner Bill Daly told PHT in an email that it’s not something that’s “ever been considered.”

“For better or worse that’s what waiver rules are there for,” Daly wrote. “They force Clubs to make tough decisions.”

Today, Montreal defenseman Jarred Tinordi became the latest waiver-eligible youngster to be sent to the AHL on a two-week conditioning loan.

Tinordi, 23, has yet to play a single game for the Habs this season. If he were still exempt from waivers, he’d have undoubtedly been sent to the AHL long before he had to watch so many NHL games from the press box.

In light of situations like Tinordi’s, some have suggested the NHL change the rules. Currently, the only risk-free way for waiver-eligible players to get playing time in the AHL is via conditioning stint, and, as mentioned, those are limited to 14 days in length.

So the Habs will, indeed, need to make a “tough decision” when Tinordi’s conditioning stint is up. Do they put him in the lineup? Do they keep him in the press box and wait for an injury or some other circumstance to create an opportunity for him to play? Do they risk losing him to waivers by attempting to send him to the AHL? Do they trade him?

Your call, Marc Bergevin.

Related: Stanislav Galiev is stuck in the NHL

Ortio clears waivers, assigned to Flames’ AHL team

Joni Ortio
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Joni Ortio has cleared waivers and been assigned to AHL Stockton, the Calgary Flames announced today.

The 24-year-old goalie was always likely to clear, what with his dreadful numbers this season (0-2-1, .868),

But we suppose there was always the chance he’d get picked up, so it’s a relief for the Flames all the same. With a little more time to hone his game in the AHL, Ortio could still turn out to be a quality NHL netminder.

In a related move, veteran goalie Jonas Hiller has been activated from injured reserve. Hiller and Karri Ramo are the only goalies on the Flames’ active roster now.