If you were to type “The Most Underrated NHL Players” into a search engine, you would most likely see a whole page of the name Ron Francis appear.
Francis in his time was one of the best players in the NHL and was consistently at the top of scoring race each year. His leadership ability was second to none as he wore the “C” for the Whalers for 6 years, 2 for the Penguins (it would have been more if not for some guy named Mario), and captained the Hurricanes to a losing cup final in 2002.
Francis is currently in 4th place of all-time regular season NHL point leaders, 24th place of all-time regular season NHL goals, 2nd place of all-time regular season NHL assists, and 3rd place on all-time NHL regular season games played.
However, in the prime of his career when the discussion came up of the best players in the NHL, the names Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, and Brett Hull were at the forefront, and “oh yeah, maybe Ron Francis”
Francis played at a time when legends were being born and his place in history suffered as a result.
Fast forward a generation or so and let us revisit the discussion of the best players in hockey. Most conversations would bring up Sidney Crosby, Geno Maklin, Alex Ovechkin, and “oh yeah, maybe Pavel Datsyuk”.
Datsyuk is a human highlight reel at times and as creative a player as you will see. He has helped to carry on arguably the closest thing to a dynasty that modern-day hockey has to offer.
He is consistently at the top of the point leaders year in and year out as was Francis. Datsyuk currently sits in 30th place for points among active NHL players, but it must be taken into consideration that while he sits at 732 NHL games, the average player between him and number one has roughly 1100 games under their belt with Jaromir Jagr at the top of the list with 1346 games.
Datsyuk has scored some of the prettiest goals that you will ever see, but it’s not just the highlight reels that make him great. He does the little things that coaches love. He puts as much energy into keeping the puck out of his own goal as he does putting it into the other teams as witnessed by his 3 Selke awards (Top Defensive Forward).
Like Francis, it’s not as if Datsyuk is written off as a scrub and to the contrary he has Cups, awards, and accolades to prove it.
He has the respect of his peers as seen through various player polls like Smartest Player, Most Difficult to Play Against, Hardest to Take the Puck From, Most Difficult to Stop, Cleanest Player, Toughest Forward to Play Against. Also witnessed by being picked first overall in the 2012 NHL All-Star game draft by captain Zdeno Chara.
Wayne Gretzky revolutionized the game. Mario Lemieux saved the Penguins, twice. Sidney Crosby helped save the Pens himself and became the face of the league after the 2004 lockout. Alex Ovechkin has a personality on and off the ice that nobody can ignore, and when he is in the mood, a goal scoring ability never seen before.
Francis and Datsyuk aren’t revolutionaries, haven’t saved anything, and are kind of soft-spoken at times, but quietly go about their business of being stars of the game.
Pavel Datsyuk is playing at a time when legends are being born and his place in history is suffering as a result.
Was Francis the best player of his time? No, but he deserved better than what he got, and the same goes for Datsyuk.
4 All-Star Games
2 Stanley Cups
1 Selke Trophy (Top Defensive Forward)
3 Lady Byng Trophies (Most Gentlemanly Player)
1 King Clancy Memorial Trophy (Leadership and Community)
Member of Hall of Fame
4 All-Start Games
2 Stanley Cups
3 Selke Trophies
4 Lady Byng Trophies
1 NHL Plus-Minus Award
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Photo From jpowers65 flickr.com