#20 Ryan Suter (defense) – I’ll admit it. I did a lot of yelling at Ryan Suter last year. I mean, A LOT of yelling. That boy could do nothing right by me during the 2007-2008 season. This year, however, I sensed a definite maturity to his game. I’d like to think that he could credit that maturity to his friendship with Shea Weber and the fiancée that he gained over the summer months. Suter was very solid all season and I hardly ever yelled at him, which made it easier for me to focus my frustrations elsewhere ::cough::deVries::cough:: The defensive pairing of Ryan Suter and Shea Weber was/is by far, my favorite. They gel very well together and more often than not seem to know exactly where the other is on the ice. Ryan tends to be the less noticed of the pair, however, because the media focuses more on Shea Weber. In my mind, both are equally worthy of media attention. It’s good to see these boys growing up as hockey players. There is no doubt in my mind that they’ll be able to lead our defense for years to come.
#22 Jordin Tootoo (winger) – Along the same lines of my sentiments regarding Ryan Suter, Jordin Tootoo did some maturing over the summer. All season long, I could tell he was legitimately trying to become more of an offensive minded hockey player and not just a often-hated agitator for this team. Not that you can ever REALLY take the fight out of the boy because he definitely came to blows with a few players when it struck his fancy to do so. Jordin lost a little bit of his offensive ability late in the season. This might be because Coach Trotz kept switching up the lines and maybe Toots found it harder to create chemistry with new linemates every night. Overall though, he had a decent season but he continues to be one of those players that needs to either really step up his game or stick to the role he was handed. Wow…look at me, being all nice to Jordin. I bet you thought I was going to let him have it, didn’t you?
#25 Jerred Smithson (center/winger) – Last year, I had really hoped that Jerred somehow found the offensive spark this season that would give him an even better year. This was not to be the case, numbers-wise. However, game in, game out performance-wise, he had a great season. Smithson was one of the lucky few who was allowed decently stable linemates. For the majority of the season, he skated with Radek Bonk and Jordin Tootoo/Joel Ward. While his natural tendency is as a center, like in Legwand’s case, Jerred found himself in a wing position and performed well on it. He was a constant anchor of the penalty killing unit. I still think back to the seven minute penalty we had to kill off during the Vancouver game in early December, when Jerred and Joel Ward got caught out on a ridiculously long shift (over two minutes, I believe) and shake my head in amazement of how much stamina it took for them to stay out there. Players like Jerred Smithson will never be ranked up there with the likes of Sidney Crosbys, Patrick Kanes, Alexander Ovechkins, et al in terms of offensive prowess. However, Smithson falls into the category of those players that go quietly about their business and become the unsung, often-unmentioned heroes of hockey teams. So maybe I won’t be so quick to place unrealistic expectations on Jerred next season...I kind of like that he’s a little bit of a underdog.
#26 Steve Sullivan (winger) – For as many times as I said “Shea Freaking Weber” this season, I should have said “Steve Freaking Sullivan” every time the man skated onto the ice. I, like many others, was very skeptical that Sullivan would ever be well enough to play hockey again. In terms of our team, he was a non-issue because he had been out for so long, I didn’t even consider him to be a viable candidate for play. In what I would consider to be close to a miracle, Sully found his way back on to the ice after an almost two-year absence. And yeah, it took him a while to catch his stride but playing hockey isn’t exactly like riding a bike. Now Sullivan is a finalist for the Masterson Trophy, an annual award that is given to the player “who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to ice hockey”. Not that I’m biased or anything (though I TOTALLY am), but after reading the stories of all three finalists (the others include Detroit Red Wings’ Chris Chelios and Florida Panthers’ Richard Zednik), Steve Sullivan by far has the stand out story of the year. I will be completely shocked if he does walk away with the trophy as Nashville doesn’t generally find favor with NHL-sanctioned awards/honors. No matter what the final outcome, Sullivan deserves all the accolades in the world for mounting a comeback that even I didn’t expect him to make. Also, he needs to have the ‘A’ back next season. OR, just go on and give him the ‘C’…if we can get him to stick around.
Next up: Ryan Jones, Joel Ward, Vernon Fiddler, Antti Pihlstrom, JP Dumont