They all can't be superstars. Every team has at least one, maybe a few, and they are the headline grabbers; the guys that sell tickets.
But any good superstar needs a supporting cast, and on a 23-man roster, everyone has a role to fill. Some are simply known as role players, and they can be stars in their own way.
The Chicago Blackhawks experienced a rebirth last season, when years of shrew drafting and player maneuvering came together for an exciting 104-point season and their first playoff appearance since 2002. But with success comes greater expectations, and to continue along that back, Chicago brought in what they hope to be one of the final missing pieces to Stanley Cup glory.
Checking center John Madden spent 10 seasons with the New Jersey Devils and won two Cup titles. A player who was not drafted into the NHL and was signed as a free agent, Madden became integral to New Jersey's sustained success. The Blackhawks craved Madden's skill set and signed him to a two-year contract.
"John is a proven winner and one of the premier defensive forwards in the game who also has the talent to contribute with timely offense as well," then-Chicago GM Dale Tallon said at the time of Madden's signing. "Adding his experience to our team is an important piece to the puzzle."
Madden has scored as many as 23 goals and 43 points in a season, but his offense is only one part of his multi-faceted game. He is an excellent checker, evidenced by his 2001 Selke Trophy as the NHL's top defensive forward, and this season won 53 percent of his faceoffs (613 for 1,156).
"His knowledge of the game is really helpful," said Patrick Kane, Chicago's leading scorer.
"You look for all of the intangibles from a guy who has been an impact player for (10) seasons with a well-structured team like the New Jersey Devils," current GM Stan Bowman said. "But you know something, I've watched John go out and check the opponent's best line for a lot of years, still I never realized what a great passer he is.
"He's already had some pretty impressive shifts with offensive players like a Patrick Kane or a Dustin Byfuglien."
Madden's mission is to get the Blackhawks farther into the playoffs than last season's trip to the Western Conference Final.
"One of the things I've continued to tell these guys is that teams are going to be ready for us," said Madden, who has played in 112 career playoff games, most on the team. "A lot of people are picking us to go far in the playoffs and have a great season. But you can't win without working your tails off. That said, there's a lot of talent here, a lot of character guys. They're young, but they have won at other levels and they want to win here, and that's what we're working to achieve."
As a role player, young David Backes of the St. Louis Blues really came into his own in 2009-10 and was one of the few bright spots on a club that disappointed in not reaching the postseason. St. Louis often relies on the fourth-year right wing to set a physical tone and let his grit and determination fuel his game. But Backes also has plenty of offensive ability. He scored 31 goals in 2008-09, his breakout season, but slipped to 17 this past season. Still, Backes finished third on the Blues in scoring with 48 points.
The St. Louis sparkplug also had a starring role with the United States at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, helping the squad earn the silver medal.
Soon after returning to the Blues from Vancouver, Backes was named a full-time alternate captain. He was previously wearing the "A" on his jersey as a fill-in for injured teammate Keith Tkachuk, a veteran power forward who Backes is beginning to emulate.
"I'm obviously honored and take it with a lot of pride that they think that highly of me," Backes told the Belleville News Democrat. "They're just kind of formalizing that I'm going to be a leader in this organization moving forward. Hopefully it turns into more positive plays for us and it's something I can build on to make the team better."
A player similar to Backes in style and importance to his team is Ryan Callahan of the Rangers, Backes' teammate in the 2010 Olympics.
"One of the things I've continued to tell these guys is that teams are going to be ready for us. A lot of people are picking us to go far in the playoffs and have a great season. But you can't win without working your tails off. That said, there's a lot of talent here, a lot of character guys. They're young, but they have won at other levels and they want to win here, and that's what we're working to achieve." -- Chicago Blackhawks center John Madden
Callahan brings an infectious energy to every shift, scoring unglamorous goals with an all-out effort in crashing the crease. This act is often lauded as courageous for the 5-11, 188-pound Callahan who often ventures near the goal crease despite the presence of much larger defensemen.
At the Rangers' home finale at Madison Square Garden, Callahan was honored with his second straight Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award. He became the fourth player in franchise history to win the 22-year-old award in back-to-back seasons.
Callahan was selected as the winner in an online vote conducted on the team's Web site as well as text-message voting and in-arena voting during the season. Thousands of fans voted Callahan for the honor, which goes annually to the player they believe goes "above and beyond the call of duty" both on and off the ice.
A solid two-way game and unrelenting work ethic make Callahan, 25, one of the leaders on the Rangers, serving as an alternate captain.
"I think that Ryan Callahan has shown the capabilities for that role and that he deserves that role," coach John Tortorella said. "It's in the way he handles himself on the ice, the way he prepares, the way he practices, the way he conducts himself. It's about being a pro."
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