The X List: Coming Out of Obscurity | Erat and Jones
By Jeff Quirin
NHL Hot Stove Associate Editor
Every season several players rise from the depths of obscurity in all its various forms. In this premier series of the X List I take a look at the top 10 players to come out of obscurity and forge their way into (back into in some cases) the NHL limelight. Here are numbers 9 and 10 plus the honorable mentions.
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Jakub Voracek (Forward – Philadelphia Flyers) and Derek Stepan (Forward – New York Rangers)
10. Martin Erat – Forward – Nashville Predators
Few players since the advent of free agency have become lifers. Especially offensively gifted wingers. Martin Erat is one such soul. The Nashville Predators 7th Round selection in the 1999 draft has spent his entire career in Smashville. Appearing in 616 games and averaging 51 points a season since 2002-03. Significant numbers for a franchise that has struggled with scoring more often than not.
Many of the primary offensive threats have been let go to allow a new crop of talented forward room to grow. Steve Sullivan was allowed to test the open market. JP Dumot was bought out. Paul Kariya and Jason Arnott are long gone. Through attrition and culminating in a short off season, Erat has become the de facto veteran scoring leader (no offense meant to Mike Fischer or David Legwand).
For all the good that comes from Nashville and is given to the greater hockey community, to many it’s still considered a backwater stretch of the league not to be paid much attention to. Their brand of hockey is rarely flashy or warrants much fantasy attention (sans Shea Weber and Pekka Rinne). But they’re now a club in transition and Erat, at least in terms of forwards, is the man the spotlight will be on. With up and comers like Patric Hornqvist and Sergei Kostitsyn along with a year wiser Colin Wilson and established blueline threats like Ryan Suter and Weber, there is plenty of support for the Czech native to feed off of.
The question is, can he? Detractors will point to an inability to stay healthy as the reason to answer “no”, but according to Josh Cooper at the Tennessean Erat is healthy and ready to go. Though he missed 18 games were missed last season, Erat posted his second strongest points/game pace of his career, .781. A projected pace of 64 points over 82 games. A total that would have tied him with peers Phil Kessel and Dany Heatley and put him just two points behind the likes of Rick Nash.
Assuming good health and a return to a 90% attendance rate, Erat is poised to rise up the league stat sheets and bring a positive spin to the phrase “Predator’s offense”.
(Suggested further reading: Could 2012 be a Breakout Year for Erat | The Predatorial.com)
9. David Jones – Forward – Colorado Avalanche
The 2003 NHL Entry Draft is widely accepted as one of the deepest classes in recent memory. Many first and second round picks have become elite forces, superstars and Stanley Cup champions. Several late round picks have also developed in to solid NHL producers with upside to spare. Speaking namely of Joe Pavelski, Dustin Byfuglien, Tobias Enstrom, Shane O’Brien, Matt Moulson and Jaroslav Halak.
Soon to be included in to that list is the 288th selection, 5th to last, from 2003. David Jones.
As if the long road from draft day to the NHL isn’t arduous enough on its own, injuries have complicated matters for the Dartmouth scoring standout (teammate of fellow late 2003 draft picks Lee Stempniak and Tanner Glass). After battling through the first half of his first full tour in the NHL a shoulder injury sustained against San Jose in January 2009 ended his season. Jones would come back strong to start off the 2009-10 campaign. Registering 10 goals in his first 23 games before missing the majority of the season once again thanks to a knee injury suffered against against Minnesota.
Jones was down but not out. His third effort proved the trick as he appeared in 77 games and amassed 27 goals and 45 points in 2010-11.
Though his goal scoring prowess displayed has been above average, any notoriety has been buried under a bevy of highly touted forwards. Not just top three selection Matt Duchense, but also wily vet Milan Hejduk, top center Paul Stastny, the enigmatic Wojtek Wolski, top ten pick Peter Mueller, and fellow power right winger Chris Stewart. Even with the trades moving out Wolski and Stewart, add in another lottery pick in like power Swede Gabriel Landeskog and Jones could be easily forgotten. But he shouldn’t be.
Players with 30 goal scoring capability aren’t available at the closest Total Hockey store. In the post lockout era game it takes size, speed, skill and the unteachable “nose for the net”. Over the course of Jones’ last 100 games, he has shown that he has the gift. Netting 37 goals for a pace of .37 goals/game or 30 per 82 games played. With Stewart out of his way, the other reliable faces playing at left wing and center, Hejduk’s aging and questions around Mueller’s health , Jones has a path to take his place as the top right winger on the Avs depth chart.
Reaping the rewards of skating on a line with Duchense and/or Stastny will have Jones potting goals at a pace with some of the best goal scoring wingers in the West.
Thanks for reading. As always you are welcome to follow me on Twitter: @JTQ_1.