Commentary

My 10 under-the-radar players to watch

Updated: September 30, 2009, 4:41 PM ET
By E.J. Hradek | ESPN The Magazine

Let's face it: We all know megastars like Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Lidstrom and Roberto Luongo are going to be vital to their respective teams' success. As my ESPN colleague Barry Melrose likes to say, "Your best players have to be your best players." Yeah, he's a wise ol' mullet.

Still, the best players can't do it alone. Teams need to have balance and chemistry to succeed. In the night-to-night tug of war for precious points and playoff positioning, coaches need every guy on the bench to be pulling the rope in the right direction.

With that in mind, here's a list of 10 players -- five from each conference -- who will be quietly important to their teams' success or failure in the coming season. For the record, I've listed them in alphabetical order -- I didn't want to play favorites.

Derick Brassard, C, Columbus Blue Jackets

Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock has high hopes for his sophomore pivot. He really has liked the way Brassard has worked during the offseason to rehab a season-ending shoulder injury and add some needed muscle. Hitchcock sees the 22-year-old center as a nice fit alongside star winger Rick Nash on the club's top line. Brassard, the sixth overall pick in the 2006 draft, will get significant power-play time, too. He certainly can't hurt a power play that ranked dead last in the league last season, clicking on just 12.7 percent of its chances. If you're playing fantasy hockey, this kid might be a nice sleeper to add to your roster. But, hey, you didn't hear it from me.


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E.J. Hradek

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
E.J. Hradek is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, joining the staff prior to its launch in 1998. He began covering hockey as a writer/editor for Hockey Illustrated in 1989.