1. Braydon Coburn – Coburn was drafted 8th overall by the Atlanta Thrashers (now the Winnipeg Jets) but he did not have easy path to success. After a few seasons of playing in the minors and the occasional call up, he was traded to the Flyers for Alexei Zhitnik. Since then, he has been overshadowed by the popular names of Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen. This has not hurt his play, if anything, it has enhanced it. With Pronger’s recent list of injuries Coburn has taken on added responsibility on the blue line for Philly and he is now one of the more solid defensemen in the game.
2. Dan Girardi – If you need to demonstrate what having heart looks like, look no further, Dan Girardi is your man. Over the years many players have been drafted and still haven’t made it to the big leagues. Girardi wasn’t even given this opportunity. He went undrafted and signed a contract with the Hartford Wolf Pack (now the Connecticut Wale), the New York Rangers minor league affiliate, and in 2007 was called up to the big club. Now you will find Girardi among league leaders in ice time and blocks shots, and serving as an un-replaceable piece to the New York Rangers line up.
3. Barret Jackman – Jackman has been a hidden gem for the St.Louis Blues ever since his freshman campaign in 2002-2003, the year he also took home the Calder Memorial Trophy for rookie of the year. I say hidden because he is not a man that will be noticed for a flashy style of play, but for his grit and determination. The Blues had an unexpected but tremendous turn around this past year, and it’s because of players like Jackman who bought into Ken Hitchcock’s system and played as a team.
4. Tobias Enstrom – Enstrom was drafted by the Atlanta Thrashers (now the Winnipeg Jets) in the 8th round of the 2003 NHL Draft. The Swedish born defensemen had success at all ages with the Modo Hockey Organization, and with them he enhanced his puck moving skills. Enstrom has been in the league for six seasons, and in everyone he has had at least 30 points, along with two 50plus point seasons. But don’t let his hands fool you, he will take the puck away from you just as fast as he passed by you. If the young 27 year old can keep up the tempo he has brought so far, expect to see him as a candidate for the Norris Trophy.
5. Bryce Salvador – I’ll be the first to admit it. I did not have the Devils making it to the Stanley Cup in my bracket, but a large part of why they made it is thanks to Bryce Salvador. Not just for his play, but by the way he lead the Devils defense on and off the ice. It is rare that you find Salvador making a selfish mistake or being caught out of position. He may not be the biggest name on the backend with new comer Adam Larrson and newly signed Marek Zidlicky, but he was definitely the most important in their playoff run. Keeping Salvador should be the top priority for New Jersey if they want to have veteran presence that their young players can learn from.
Let me know who your top 5 are below!