A lot of music buffs out there know the story of “The Band.” Before they went off on their own, they were Bob Dylan’s back-up band for his first electric tour. With Dylan, they helped gain notoriety and helped the famous folk singer make his transition. The shows were some of the best shows of Dylan’s career, helping launch The Band’s career into one that earned them a Lifetime Achievement Grammy and a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. With or without Dylan, they were pretty damn good.
The Band share a lot more with hockey players than just their Canadian roots. How many times do we see great players in the NHL who don’t quite get the proper respect because they’re playing behind another great player? The history of the NHL is littered with players who would have been superstars in their own right, but instead are trapped in a teammate’s shadow.
A perfect example is Mark Messier in Edmonton before the Peter Pocklington sold The Great One to L.A. He was a good player and certainly had his fans, but there’s no question that he wasn’t getting the attention he would have gotten had he not been playing on the same team as a guy who was putting up 200 points per year. Looking back at the league’s 2nd all-time scorer and one of its best leaders ever, it’s hard to believe there was a time when a lot of people thought he was just a member of the supporting cast for the Oilers.
Jaromir Jagr played in Lemieux’s shadow until Super Mario was forced to leave the Penguins in 1993 due to Hodgkin’s disease. Sergei Zubov took a back seat to Brian Leetch until he ended up in Dallas and everyone got to see how truly talented he was. Henri Richard was forced to live in his brother Maurice’s pocket and the Sedin twins play in each other’s identical shadow. You get the idea—the list goes on and on…
Looking around the league today, who are some of the players who would get a lot more respect if it weren’t for playing in someone else’s shadow? Here are 10 guys that make our list…
Nicklas Backstrom: How can someone score over 100 points and fall onto this list? Well, put him on the same team as Alexander Ovechkin and watch how many people think he only scores points because he’s with the Russian. It doesn’t matter who you play with though: 100+ point forwards who are defensively responsible are pretty damn hard to find.
Bobby Ryan: Because the Ducks are having problems signing Ryan, fans around the league have visions of Offer Sheets dancing through their heads and are starting to put him in the public eye. But for some reason, when people think of the Ducks most talented players, they’re automatically focused on the Getzlaf/Perry duo. Maybe he’ll get his due if he ends up in another city.
Ryan Kesler: He started getting more love after Americans saw him Be All He Could Be with Team USA this year. Playing on the 2nd line behind the ginger twins might cause some fans to forget that behind the grit and leadership is a guy who was in the top 25 in NHL scoring this year.
Claude Giroux: Maybe it’s because the Flyers don’t know if they want him to play wing or center. Maybe it’s because he’s often buried on the 3rd line and maybe it’s just because he’s so young. But on a team full of talented (and more well-known forwards), Claude Giroux might just be the most talented.
Jack Johnson: No, he’s not Drew Doughty. No, he’s not quite the dominant player that some predicted he’d be coming out of the University of Michigan. But if you take away the overwhelming comparisons to Doughty and his college self, you’d see that he’s starting to put all of those tools together towards becoming a VERY good NHL defenseman.
Joe Pavelski: Why doesn’t the young Pavelski get his due? How about forwards like Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and Dany Heatley. But here’s a little secret: If a lot of Sharks fans got their wish, none of those big name players would be the next captain of the Sharks. It would be The Big Pavelski.
Mark Giordano: He may not have been as well paid as Jay Bouwmeester, or as flashy as Dion Phaneuf was last year. But he was more productive that J-Bo, and far less douchey than Phaneuf.
Jussi Jokinen: Who lead the Carolina Hurricanes in goals last season? Hint: It wasn’t Eric Staal.
Chris Stewart: With guys like Paul Stastny and Matt Duchene carrying the banner for the Avalanche and their commitment to youth, power-forward Chris Stewart seems to get lost in the shuffle. If he keeps progressing at the same rate though, it’ll be hard to ignore the guy who’s on the cusp of scoring 30 goals per season for years to come.
Loui Eriksson: Mike Modano used to be the face of the franchise and Brad Richards looks to be the new face. Brendan Morrow has been the leader in the locker room and James Neal shows signs that one day he could take over the leadership. But in between all of those guys, there’s extremely underrated Loui Eriksson.
Travis Zajac: At some point, people will realize that not only does Zach Parise make him better, but he also makes Parise better, as well.
Maybe some of these guys will start getting the credit they deserve once they get a chance of scenery. But just because they’re playing behind the guys in the spotlight, doesn’t mean they’re not shining just as bright as they could on their own. Who are some of the players that you think should have made our list? We’d love to hear from you!