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Five favorite players to watch

Jordan Staal has what it takes to be a future Selke Trophy winner. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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Jordan Staal has what it takes to be a future Selke Trophy winner. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

I’m still in disbelief over the result of an innocuous shove by Johnny Boychuk on Mason Raymond in Game 6 of June’s Stanley Cup final. It’s a shame that Raymond is still unsure of when, or if, he’ll return to an NHL ice surface not just because it’s an unfair twist of fate, but also because he was, simply, an exciting player to watch.

I really began watching Raymond closely in the early-going of his breakout 2009-10 season and though he dropped off his production last year I still convinced a few friends that bigger things were yet to come. I loved his speed and his stride; I loved watching him, waiting for that moment when he’d blow you away with the skills that brought him to the NHL.

Some players – obviously, Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby – appeal to the masses. Others have smaller followings, but draw fans to watch their teams just to catch a glimpse of a certain someone. We all like different things about hockey and that translates into a wide variety of player types being labeled a “favorite.” This doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy watching Sidney Crosby, Jeff Skinner or Daniel Sedin, it just means I enjoy watching these guys a little more.

These are five players I enjoy watching the most and why.

5. Tim Thomas

I played in net for about a month in novice hockey and have a clear memory of letting a goal slip through my legs that was pushed down from the other end of the ice. I’m pretty sure we lost every single game I played and most were probably in the double-digits. So, no, I’m not really a goalie guy.

Nonetheless, Thomas is the epitome of excitement. I’m drawn to Thomas for the same reasons I loved watching Dominik Hasek flail about in the crease. I was one of those folks who didn’t believe Thomas' style would be able to lead a team through the playoffs. I thought he’d be bound to give up a bad goal here and there and that ultimately it would always catch up to him. Oh how wrong I was.

With Thomas, you never know what’s going to happen, whether it be a horrendous goal or an immaculate save. And the unorthodox style he brings to the blue ice is undeniably fun to watch.

4. Pavel Datsyuk

My Russian host for a couple weeks this past summer, Datsyuk protects the puck and stays sturdy on his feet as if he were an immovable 6-foot-6 giant. Of course, that’s not the case. At 5-foot-11, you wouldn’t know he was one of the world’s best players to see him on the street, but when you watch him work his Datsyukian magic on the ice, it’ll mesmerize you and you won’t be able to look away.

Datsyuk is a master at puck protection, stickhandling and he has a decent shot, too. He often makes the defenders look helpless and hopeless, swimming around trying to catch him to no avail. Whenever Datsyuk is playing, my attention turns to Detroit.

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3. Rick Nash

With such a big frame and being such a strong skater, Nash could have got to the NHL in a number of different roles. What really puts him over the top is the fact he can deke like a stereotypical small player who relies on nifty stickhandling to become an NHLer.

I mean, c’mon man. It’s easy to find ridiculous highlight-reel goals such as this one. How a man of that size can move so nimbly I’ll never know, but it’s incredible to watch and try to figure out. Oh, yeah, and he can hit too - and hitting is fun.

2. Douglas Murray


When you hear the word explosive when describing a hockey player it usually refers to his foot speed. But when it comes to this big Swede, explosive generally refers to the aftermath of his bodychecks. At 6-foot-3, 240 pounds, Murray isn’t going to bring it offensively, though he’s not a liability when it comes time to move the puck up the ice and out of the zone. And his skating isn’t half-bad either for a big man. I thought he was the best San Jose player in the 2011 post-season and really neutralized a lot of rushes.

What I like most about watching Murray is the anticipation of the big hit. You know it’s coming, but when? And when it finally does happen it almost always lifts you out of your seat with an exclamation. If someone asks me what I think of Douglas Murray, two words suffice: Boo Ya.

1. Jordan Staal

I couldn’t believe it: I posted on Twitter Tuesday night that Staal was my most favorite NHL player to watch and while some understood the nuances he brings and could see where I was coming from, I was shocked at some of the negativity his name brought to boil. In fact, one person questioned my hockey IQ for having the audacity to enjoy watching a Selke Trophy nominee. Go figure.

To me, Staal has the most beautiful skating stride out there. His defensive positioning is outstanding and I’m convinced, along with many others, the Selke will be his one day. His stick work is phenomenal and he’s one of the best at tailing a player, lifting his stick, stealing the puck, turning, and moving back with it the other way. He makes it look so effortless, too, which I suppose is why some people may not like him: it appears as though he’s capable of more, but if you look closely, he’s quite effective as is.

I’m still expecting more offensively from him and am convinced it’ll happen - it’s crazy to write off the potential of a power forward at 23. He creates so many chances with his big body alone, the results will one day come.

Rory Boylen is TheHockeyNews.com's web editor. His column appears regularly only on THN.com.

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