March 29, 2012; Toronto, ON, CANADA; Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds (17) juggles the puck before the game against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-US PRESSWIRE

Atlantic Division X-Factors

This new series will profile the player on each team who has the ability to make a profound impact on every game in many different ways. This is not a count down of the best players, but instead a look at the team’s most important player, not just from a statistical standpoint, but how he brings something to the table that no one else does. Here are some criteria that go into the determination:

  • Output - Obviously, it is necessary to at least analyze the stats of each player, but low points or defensive totals do not eliminate a player from contention
  • Leadership ability – Is this player the emotional leader of the team? Does he lead by example?
  • Hustle- We all love to see a player with limited skill beat out a superstar. Hustle is an integral part of hockey, and having a great motor has to be factored in.
  • Physicality- A player who changes momentum with a big hit or strong run at the net can have a profound impact in an intense contest.

So, without further adieu, here are the Atlantic Division X-Factors:

New Jersey Devils, D Bryce Salvador-

Bryce Salvador

June 11, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; New Jersey Devils defenseman Bryce Salvador (24) battles for the puck with Los Angeles Kings left wing Simon Gagne (12) during the second period of game six of the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals at the Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

Being from New Jersey, I had to (painstakingly, I might add) listen to Devils fans constantly brag about their great scoring line, fantastic rookie forward Adam Henrique, and the wonderful (medicore) play of Martin Brodeur throughout the postseason. What many casual Devils fans did not realize, however, was that the team was carried by defensemen Bryce Salvador throughout that improbable run. Salvador registered nine points in the playoffs, equaling his total from the regular season. Moreover, he was an essential physical precense for the Devils, finishing in the top-six in penalty minutes and average time-on-ice in both the regular season and playoffs. Critics may say that he just had a great postseason, and they are partially correct, but that is also my point. Bryce Salvador is a gamer. He steps up when he needs to, and any die-hard Devils fan was beyond ecstatic when they locked him up this offseason (3-year, 9.5 million). Salvador is the X-factor because he led an underwhelming Devils team to the Stanley Cup, while contributing far beyond his talent level and expectations.

New York Islanders, LW Matt Martin-

Martin led the Isles in penalty minutes this year (121), while posting his career highs in both goals and points (7,14), all on primarily third-line duty. The 23-year old winger is not a stud offensively, but is more than capable of hammering home chances in front of net. More importantly, Martin is essential to the penalty kill, which was 12th in the league in power play goals allowed, while he also had three short-handed assists. He is definitely an up-and-comer, who still has some upside and room to grow in the NHL, having only played two full seasons. More importantly, he has shown improvement in his play each year he has been called upon, and although still young, is starting to develop into the kind of defensively-minded forward that can be called upon to do the dirty work. This kid isn’t going to be a perennial all-star, but it wouldn’t surprise if he one day wore the A (John Tavares will have the C).

Matt Martin

Feb 11, 2012; Uniondale, NY, USA; New York Islanders left wing Matt Martin (17) moves up ice during the first period against the Los Angeles Kings at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-US PRESSWIRE

New York Rangers, LW Mike Rupp-

Now, if Brandon Prust was under contract next season, this would have without a doubt gone to him. But, Mike Rupp is definitely equally as deserving for this distinction. Plainly speaking, Mike Rupp is a tough son of a b*#$h, and he is beloved by Rangers fans. The former New Jersey Devil was a great fourth-liner for the blueshirts, bringing a physical presence to a team that desperately needed an enforcer (and a great fighter), who ranked fourth and first in penalty minutes the regular season and playoffs, respectively. Rupp was also opportunistic on the offensive end, throwing in four regular season goals. He even ranked fourth in shooting percentage, an unbelievable stat for someone who is typically inept on the offensive end (excluding garbage goals). But to be frank, Rupp’s contributions are mainly on the defensive end, where he delivers smashing open ice hits and ignites the crowd with his fists. He is the emotional leader on the, who inspires his teammates and leaves everything out there on the ice (for his 6:30 ATOI). Being a Ranger’s fan, I was against the initial move to bring him in, but Rupp wound up being a solid contributer to a conference final team that surely needed his toughness.

Mike Rupp

Mar 9, 2012; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks left wing Brandon Bollig (52) fights with New York Rangers left wing Mike Rupp (71) during the second period at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-US PRESSWIRE

Philadelphia Flyers, RW Wayne Simmonds-

The 23-year old winger has been the hallmark of efficiency and consistency for the Flyers, who were bounced by the New Jersey Devils in the conference semis. Tied for fourth in points (49), Simmonds played in all 82 regular season and 11 playoff games, and was a great two-way player for Philly. Although he is outshined, and rightly so, by wizard Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell, and Jaromir Jagr, Simmonds has started to develop into one of the best young wingers in the game, and a lot of it is due to his willingness to sacrifice his body for the team. He was second on the team with 114 penalty minutes, while finishing second in power play goals with 11. It’s this versatility that makes Simmonds a great all around player for the Flyers, who surely have a rock solid winger for years to come.

Pittsburgh Penguins, C Sidney Crosby-

I understand that your initial thought here is that he is clearly the best player (sans Evgeni Malkin, maybe), but he has been injured for the better part of two seasons. And that is precisely the reason he is the X-Factor. In only 22 games this season, Crosby totaled 37 points, along with another eight in just six playoff games (45 total in only 28 games). Crosby is a player that transcends the typical “superstar” distinction, as he is truly the best player in the NHL when he is healthy. He can score, has great vision, plays well on both powerplay and penalty kill, and is without a doubt the leader of the perennially solid Penguins. The only knock on him may be his lack of physicality and tendency to shy away from contact, but how can you blame a guy who suffered two very serious concussions in the past two seasons. Moreover, Pittsburgh seems to go as Crosby goes, making him the true benchmark for their success. If Crosby is healthy, which he rarely has been the past two seasons, Pittsburgh is close to unbeatable. Whereas when he is out of the lineup, they generally underperform, even with the bevy of talent they have accumulated over the years. Crosby has the potential to lead this Penguins team to multiple cups if he can stay healthy, but whether he is on the ice or not, he will have a massive impact on the Pens’ season.

Sidney Crosby

Mar. 29, 2012; Uniondale, NY, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) controls the puck during the second period against the New York Islanders at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-US PRESSWIRE

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Tags: Adam Henrique Brandon Prust Bryce Salvador Claude Giroux Evgeni Malkin Jaromir Jagr John Tavares Martin Brodeur Matt Martin Mike Rupp New Jersey Devils New York Rangers Philadelphia Flyers Pittsburgh Penguins Scott Hartnell Sidney Crosby Wayne Simmonds

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