Commentary

These players could surprise you this postseason

Updated: April 25, 2008, 3:43 PM ET
By Terry Frei | Special to ESPN.com

DETROIT -- They're like the guys who used to show up in your favorite movies, whether as the next-door neighbor, the father-in-law, the owner of the bar or the mayor of Mystery, Alaska.

Variously, they're called role players, or character or supporting actors.

Sometimes, they steal the scene or the show. And if that happens often enough, they no longer toil in relative obscurity.

I'm thinking of, say, Wayne Knight, who played Newman on "Seinfeld" and should have won at least two Emmys. And there for a while, wasn't G.D. Spradlin in every movie released?

As the NHL playoffs roll along, the potential is there for second-tier (or third-tier) players to step up and either contribute to degrees that were unforeseen or have their previously under-the-radar roles take on a new prominence that help make a difference between evenly matched teams.

So here's a look at some of the players of that ilk who either have stepped up to help their teams get to the second round or who could have a major influence in deciding who moves on.

Colorado Avalanche
• Ben Guite: Seemingly destined to remain an AHL journeyman, the former University of Maine Black Bear got his chance with the Avalanche last season and now is entrenched as the fourth-line center and one of the key penalty-killing forwards. His short-handed breakaway goal in Game 6 helped finish off the Wild in the first round.

• Jordan Leopold: There are always comeback stories among role players, too. Two years ago, the former Hobey Baker Award winner was playing major minutes with Calgary, but he has been injury-plagued with the Avalanche and even was a healthy scratch in the first three games against Minnesota. But he's back in the lineup, and if he can pitch in, especially on the power play, that also gives the Avalanche a better shot.

Dallas Stars
• Stephane Robidas: With the Stars minus Sergei Zubov for the whole series and Philippe Boucher for the final three games, Robidas' ice time increased as the Anaheim series went along, and he had a goal and five assists as Dallas dispatched the defending champion. He missed all of two shifts after taking a puck to the face and suffering a broken nose (again) in Game 6. Boucher almost certainly isn't going to be able to return in the San Jose series, and Zubov is trying to get back in the lineup, but Robidas' strong play has mitigated some of the damage.

• Loui Eriksson: His three-goal contribution against the Ducks was a continuation of his late-season emergence after getting to spend a lot of time playing with Mike Ribeiro and Brenden Morrow. The 22-year-old Swede had three goals against the Ducks. So this isn't necessarily an unlikely saga as much as it is the next step in a move up to stardom. But there's no more authoritative stamp of legitimacy than the postseason, and this might be it for Eriksson.

Detroit Red Wings
• Kris Draper: OK, this one is a stretch. Draper has been one of the top two-way forwards in the game forever, but he will be prominent in the series against Colorado in part for an unfortunate reason -- his devastated-face, victim status in the hit from behind by Claude Lemieux in the 1996 Western Conference semifinals. So while that will be replayed, oh, 346 times in the next two weeks, his actual current importance is more of an issue in this series. With Peter Forsberg back on the power play (if his groin injury doesn't keep him out past Game 1), it's the major vehicle for the Avalanche to have a shot, and Draper's work there will be crucial. And if he chips in with a goal or two (and he had two against the Predators), that will add to his influence.

• Darren McCarty: He's baaaaack. Lemieux isn't walking through that door, so vengeance -- unless he holds Ian Laperriere accountable for the regular-season hit that temporarily sidelined Nicklas Lidstrom -- isn't an issue. But could you think of a more stirring way for McCarty to put an exclamation point on his comeback than again doing something to eliminate the Avalanche?

Montreal Canadiens
• Bryan Smolinski: The only man ever to play for every NHL team (maybe it only seems that way) is the sort of veteran center and specialist who can be so crucial as the postseason goes along, and he was on the ice for nearly 16 minutes a game against Boston. And he can even be a steadying influence for the Brothers Kostitsyn.

• Patrice Brisebois: You have to hand it to him: He's resilient, especially in spirit, signing on for a second tour of duty in the city where he was so often criticized or made the scapegoat. On some nights, his minutes were diminished against the Bruins, but he's capable of making a big difference in this upcoming series -- positively, or negatively, if he reverts to being a human turnover machine.

New York Rangers
• Sean Avery: Talk about a guy playing a role. His act is irritating, aggravating, inexcusable and not worthy of a handshake. But it works, much to the chagrin of Martin Brodeur and others over the years. It apparently even works with actresses, and now he'll be attempting to distract the precocious Penguins.

• Ryan Callahan: Restored to the lineup in early February after a stint at Hartford, the young winger played well down the stretch on Chris Drury's line and pitched in with one goal against the Devils.

Philadelphia Flyers
• Jim Dowd: Another case of a much-traveled veteran center, character guy, faceoff ace, and the sort of player who can be so valuable in the postseason. He's not on the ice that much, and wasn't against Washington, either, but he could be a quiet force against the Canadiens.

• Braydon Coburn: He had three assists against the Capitals while playing major minutes, and although other Flyers defensemen have higher profiles, he has had a breakout season and will be nudged further into the spotlight if Philadelphia can make it through another round. The Thrashers could end up ruing the day they sent him to the Flyers for Alexei Zhitnik.

Pittsburgh Penguins
• Pascal Dupuis: The secondary name in the deal that also brought Marian Hossa to the Pens, he's playing much of the time with Sidney Crosby and Hossa, so this isn't a case of a forward skating under the radar. He didn't have a goal against Ottawa, but he's capable of both being complementary to his linemates, even when he doesn't score, and coming up with the crucial goal himself, perhaps even a short-handed one.

• Brooks Orpik: He's tossed into this mix as one of the working examples of the defenseman who shows up every night, plays nearly 20 minutes, isn't expected to -- and doesn't -- show up on the score sheet, and is indispensable. Especially in a situation like this, it can be even more underrated than usual.

San Jose Sharks
• Ryane Clowe: Shortly after returning from the knee surgery that kept him out of most of the regular season, he helped eliminate the Flames with four goals in the first round. For the Sharks to exorcise some playoff demons, it would help if both Clowe and Joe Pavelski continue to shine.

• Christian Ehrhoff: The German defenseman was back in the lineup for the final four games of the series against the Flames after an, ahem, lower-body injury healed (enough), and he had two assists in Game 7. Continued strong play from him would be a shot in an upper-body part for the Sharks.

Terry Frei is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He is the author of the just-released "'77" and "Third Down and a War to Go."

Terry Frei

ESPN.com contributor
Terry Frei is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He is the author of "Third Down and a War to Go" and "Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming."