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.

It’s Montreal Canadiens day at PHT

P.K. Subban,
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An injury to Carey Price essentially meant the beginning of the end to the 2015-16 season for the Montreal Canadiens.

With their No. 1 goalie, their most valuable player, out of the lineup, the Canadiens tumbled down the standings and missed the playoffs. The fan base in Montreal would feel even more frustration in the summer as general manager Marc Bergevin suddenly sent fan-favorite and right-shooting defenseman P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators for right-shooting defenseman Shea Weber in an absolute blockbuster deal.

Weber is four years older than Subban and under contract until 2026. Subban’s deal expires in 2022.

Subban feels closer to winning a Stanley Cup in Nashville than he did in Montreal. Weber isn’t going to try to be the next P.K. Subban in Montreal. And Bergevin, surely, has been feeling the heat for the controversial trade. Some in the media have called it the worst trade in franchise history. Subban is not only very talented on the ice, but he was popular away from it, too, in the city of Montreal.

Not only did the Habs lose Subban in the deal, but their analytics consultant, Matt Pfeffer, didn’t have his contract renewed because he reportedly disagreed with the trade. Pfeffer later confirmed he made a “passionate” case to keep Subban in Montreal.

The deal occurred on the same day the Edmonton Oilers traded star forward Taylor Hall to New Jersey for defenseman Adam Larsson. Yet, this Subban-Weber trade has provided material for the hockey world to debate and discuss just about every week for two months now. And you can bet that will happen when the season begins.

The Habs also signed forward Alexander Radulov to a one-year deal worth $5.75 million.

This is Radulov’s third stint in the NHL. He’s supremely talented and the Habs could use a player that can score goals. But he’s also been at the center of off-ice disciplinary issues, including a team-imposed suspension for reportedly violating curfew when he was in Nashville.

And getting back to Carey Price: He has been deemed to be 100 per cent healthy heading into the new season, after playing in only 12 games last season with a knee injury.

Crouse brings the ‘total package’ of size, skill and speed to Coyotes

FT. LAUDERDALE, FL - JUNE 25: Lawson Crouse attends the Top Prospects Media Opportunity at the Westin Ft. Lauderdale Beach Resort on June 25, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Lawson Crouse has joined a talented group of young forwards in Arizona, after the Coyotes acquired the 2015 first-round pick from the Florida Panthers on Thursday.

The Coyotes had to take on the contract of injured forward Dave Bolland, but in their minds, it was worth it to get a player like Crouse, who certainly brings size up front at six-foot-four-inches tall and 212 pounds. He had 23 goals and 62 points in 49 games this season with Kingston in the OHL.

“He’s a unique guy because usually when you add a guy with the type of size he has you usually give up a little bit in skating or you give up a little bit in skill,” said general manager John Chayka, as per the Coyotes website.

“He’s a guy that you add the size and he actually enhances that for your entire group. In our opinion, it was a guy that’s rare to find, difficult to obtain. Certainly, once they become established in the league, those players are locked up well into their 30s and then you end up trying to maybe overpay for a player that has these attributes that’s not in the prime of his career.”

Crouse, who turned 19 years old in June, now joins the likes of Max Domi, Dylan Strome and Anthony Duclair as part of Arizona’s group of up-and-coming young forwards. He has familiarity with all three from playing in the OHL or for Team Canada at the world juniors.

“He can fly. He’s fast and he hits and he scores goals. You kinda get the total package,” Strome told Sportsnet.

The Las Vegas Desert Knights? Maybe . . .

LAS VEGAS, NV - JUNE 22:  New Las Vegas NHL franchise owner Bill Foley addresses the media during the Board Of Governors Press Conference prior to the 2016 NHL Awards at Encore Las Vegas on June 22, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The NHL's board of governors approved expanding to Las Vegas, making the franchise the 31st team in the league. The team will start play during the 2017-18 season and play at the newly built T-Mobile Arena.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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There’s been another possible development in the search for a team name for the Las Vegas NHL franchise.

The Las Vegas ‘Desert Knights’ could perhaps be a thing.

Maybe.

From the Las Vegas Review-Journal:

Last week domain names were registered that might be an indicator that the NHL team scheduled to begin play in 2017 could be called the Las Vegas Desert Knights.

Last week the domains lasvegasdesertknights.com, vegasdesertknights.com and desertknightshockey.com were privately registered to Moniker Privacy Services, which is the same company that procured the domain name to NHL.com.

DetroitHockey.net first reported the new domain name Thursday morning.

Foley said via text message he had no comment regarding the process when reached by the Review-Journal.

As the Las Vegas franchise continues to hire key members for its hockey operations department, there is growing intrigue when it comes to the search for a new name.

What will this new franchise be called?

The wait continues, and there has been a lot of space dedicated to speculating and discussing the possibilities.

It’s been reported that the expansion franchise could use one of at least three ‘Hawks’-orientated names. Owner Bill Foley also said this summer that Las Vegas can’t use a ‘Knights’ nickname is Canada, because London’s OHL franchise was also named the Knights.

Stay tuned . . .

Las Vegas hires former Panthers director of player personnel Scott Luce

ST PAUL, MN - JUNE 24:  Director of scouting Scott Luce of the Florida Panthers smiles before day one of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft at Xcel Energy Center on June 24, 2011 in St Paul, Minnesota.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Scott Luce has gone from the Florida Panthers to the Las Vegas expansion franchise.

The new NHL organization — still searching for a team name — announced Thursday that it has hired Luce as its new director of amateur scouting.

Luce spent the last 14 years in Florida, as a scout and as director of player personnel.

Luce was let go earlier in the offseason, as the Panthers underwent massive change within their front office, with the promotion of Dale Tallon to president of hockey operations and Tom Rowe to GM, and more attention to analytics.