Maybe they lack flair or style. Maybe they're soft-spoken and surrounded by more recognizable stars. For whatever reason, every team has them – underrated players who show up every night and make a difference.
With input from a number of traveling hockey writers, here's the player who earns the underrated label for each team.
Anaheim Ducks: Samuel Pahlsson – Drafted by Colorado in 1996, but a player who didn’t make his NHL debut until 2000-01 with Boston after six seasons in Sweden, Pahlsson has excelled as a premiere defensive center with the Ducks. Approaching 500 games played, Pahlsson should get serious consideration for the Selke award.
Atlanta Thrashers: Slava Kozlov – The 35-year-old right wing spent 10 seasons with Detroit, which drafted him in the third round in 1990. After a season in Buffalo, Kozlov was dealt to the Thrashers, and stands to reach the 1,000-game plateau at midseason. He has never scored fewer than 20 goals during his first four seasons in Atlanta.
Boston Bruins: Glen Metropolit – This Toronto native moved around before earning a contract on a tryout basis with the Bruins this season. Used on the penalty kill but playing an expanded role with Patrice Bergeron out, the 33-year-old center's resume includes appearances with five NHL teams, portions of four seasons in the AHL, four in the IHL, one in the ECHL, three spent in Europe and two others playing with the defunct Roller Hockey International.
Buffalo Sabres: Adam Mair – He's a strong winger who has found a niche with the Sabres after playing briefly in Los Angeles and Toronto, which drafted the Hamilton, Ont., native in the fourth round in 1997. Mair is in his fifth full season with Buffalo, which can count on the 6-foot-2, 215-pound popular winger to stand up for teammates and provide aggressive play.
Calgary Flames: Daymond Langkow – He's arrived as a Flame, scoring 33 and 25 goals, respectively, over the last two seasons. It took a while for the Edmonton native to blossom after getting selected fifth overall by Tampa Bay in 1995. The strong-skating center bounced from the Lightning to Philadelphia to Phoenix, where he scored at least 20 goals for three straight seasons.
Carolina Hurricanes: Cory Stillman – Peterborough, Ont. native never seems to get recognized for his offensive abilities, but he's quietly managed to score 20 goals seven times and had 552 career points in his first 771 games. Chosen sixth overall by Calgary in 1992, the center played for the Flames and St. Louis before book-ending the 2005 lockout with Stanley Cup wins in consecutive seasons with Tampa Bay in 2004 and Carolina in 2006.
Chicago Blackhawks: Duncan Keith – A part of what appears to be a successful youth movement, this Winnipeg-born defenseman led the Blackhawks in blocked shots last season and logs big minutes. The 24-year-old managed a career-high 31 points last season, but skating and defending in a disciplined manner are his forte.
Colorado Avalanche: Kurt Sauer – Minnesota native isn't going to dazzle anyone with offense (four goals and 22 points in 247 games coming into the season), but he provides solid defense without taking penalties. The 6-foot-4, 224-pound former third-round pick by Colorado broke in with Anaheim, but has found a home on the Avalanche blueline where he averages more than 18 minutes a game.
Columbus Blue Jackets: David Vyborny – A skilled Czech native, he was selected in Round 2 by Edmonton 14 years ago, didn't come to the NHL until 2000, which started a seven-year run with the expansion Blue Jackets. The swift right wing has scored between 13 and 22 goals every season and has produced 64 and 65 points, respectively, the last two years.
Dallas Stars: Niklas Hagman – Finnish product has been the biggest surprise for the goal-starved Stars this season. With 53 goals during the first 399 games of his career, the 6-foot, 205-pound left wing supplied seven in Dallas’ first 13 games. Hagman played parts of four seasons with Florida, which drafted him in the third round in 1999.
Detroit Red Wings: Tomas Holmstrom – No one gives goalies fits with his presence in front of the net on the power play more than this guy. A modest goal-scorer his first eight seasons with Detroit, the left wing blossomed with 30 and 29 goals, respectively, in the new NHL the last two seasons. A real steal for the draft-savvy Red Wings, who took the native Swede in the 10th round in 1994.
Edmonton Oilers: Fernando Pisani – Battling colitis, which left him gaunt and bed ridden in the summer, the Edmonton native has yet to appear for the Oilers this season, and his timetable is undetermined. Prospects are for the left wing to return, however. The eighth-round pick scored between 14 and 18 goals each of the last three seasons while providing depth and versatility.
Florida Panthers: Olli Jokinen – A third overall pick in 1997 by Los Angeles, the Finnish-born skater scored only 35 goals in his first 314 games. Then, almost out of nowhere, the 6-foot-3, 210-pound center scored 139 goals in four seasons with the Panthers, appearing in 327 out of a possible 328 games. His 641 regular-season games coming into the season were most among active players yet to appear in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Los Angeles Kings:Dustin Brown – Rewarded last week with a six-year, $19.05-million deal is another example of a player who doesn't need to produce eye-popping numbers to garner value. The 6-foot-1, 203-pound first-round pick of the Kings in 2003 does produce eye-popping hits, however. Just for fun, isolate this guy during a few shifts and watch how hard he works.
Minnesota Wild: Mikko Koivu – Not as well known as his brother, Saku, who captains the Canadiens, the younger sibling is progressing appropriately during his third full NHL season. Mikko, drafted sixth overall in 2001, is a good fit for coach Jacques Lemaire’s defensive system as the 6-foot-2, 205-pound center has the reputation for strong checking and shows a nose for the net.
Montreal Canadiens: Mark Streit – A late-bloomer who hails from Switzerland, the smooth-skating defenseman didn't join the Canadiens until he was 27 years old. He scored 10 goals and 36 points during his first season as a regular last year, and was nominated as the team's Masterton Trophy candidate for his perseverance and dedication to the game.
Nashville Predators: Vernon Fiddler – Undrafted, the Edmonton native has had to be patient to get to where he is today, a versatile contributor to a Predators team that has had to rebuild under a shadow of ownership uncertainty. The center usually is asked to provide energy on a third or fourth line, but lately has been asked to contribute on scoring lines.
New Jersey Devils: Jay Pandolfo – Another in a seemingly long line of players who fit into the Devils' system, the 32-year-old left wing brings 652 games of NHL experience – all with New Jersey – into the season. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound native Winchester, Mass., has been the model of durability, failing to miss a regular-season game in the last three seasons. Not flashy, the second-round pick in 1993 provides a solid third- or fourth-line play.
New York Islanders: Mike Sillinger – Having just eclipsed the 1000-game milestone, the well-traveled 36-year-old checking center deluxe remains one of the best faceoff men in the game and a welcome addition to any playoff contender's roster. Sillinger has played for 12 different NHL teams, his leadership and versatility topping a long list of assets.
New York Rangers: Michal Rozsival – One of the less-known No. 1 defensemen in the league, the Czech native leads the team with nearly 25 minutes of ice time per game. He plays a point on the power play, kills penalties and, although not overly physical, absorbs big hits to make plays. The 29-year-old broke in with Pittsburgh, who drafted him in the fourth round in 1996.
Ottawa Senators: Chris Kelly – The Senators might regret not being able to sign the almost 27-year-old third-line center to a multi-year deal because he can become an unrestricted free agent in the summer, and the Toronto native could be very attractive considering his two-way play, penalty-killing ability, strong hockey sense and reputation as being a coach’s dream.
Philadelphia Flyers: Jason Smith – It took the Flyers only three months to come to the conclusion the veteran defenseman should be named captain, the same role he played with his former team, Edmonton, where his nine years of captaincy was a longer tenure than Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier. Smith, 34, is a bruising, physical defenseman who makes up for offensive deficiencies with a ton of heart.
Phoenix Coyotes: Alex Auld – The only goalie on the list, the native of Cold Lake, Alberta, has more or less settled into the No. 1 role with the Coyotes, who figure to keep him busy considering all the youth and inexperience on the roster. Auld, big for a netminder at 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, was a second-round pick by Florida in 1999, and has had to play the backup role with both the Panthers and Vancouver before settling in this season.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Maxime Talbot – OK, on a roster with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal often manning center ice on the top three lines, there's not a lot of spotlight left for a fourth-liner, but the 23-year-old French Canadian has been very solid in filling that role in addition to adding some surprising offense.
St. Louis Blues: Jamal Mayers – In his 10th NHL season, all with the Blues, this 33-year-old winger still has jets to burn. The Toronto native has achieved double-figures in goal-scoring only once, but he's remained in the lineup because of his strong forechecking and aggressiveness.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Paul Ranger – There's probably not a lot of sixth-round picks leading their team in ice time, but that's where the 23-year-old native of Whitby, Ont., finds himself on the stat sheet – skating for nearly 26 minutes a night. Ranger, chosen 183rd overall in 2002, isn't a big contributor on offense, but he's finished as a plus-5 in each of his first two NHL seasons while averaging 74 games played.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Matt Stajan – A fourth-year pro who is a maniac in terms of power lifting, he has expanded his fourth-line role to seeing close to 19 minutes a night. Stronger because of his dedication to fitness, Stajan, 23, has been tougher to knock off the puck and he's playing with all-time confidence.
Vancouver Canucks: Ryan Kesler – Fortunate to escape serious injury as victim of a vicious cross-check that earned Philadelphia's Jesse Boulerice a 25-game suspension, the 23-year-old center is averaging 19 minutes per game. He's versatile, with the ability to play several roles, and an important skater to supply depth on a team that must show it boasts more than one line.
Washington Capitals: Boyd Gordon – It isn't the sexiest of roles – checking-line center – but it's a very important role for a team trying to get back into playoff contention with a lot of skill on the top two lines. The 24-year-old native of Unity, Saskatchewan, was Washington's first-round pick in 2002 and averages 18 minutes a game.