Little-known star

Jets centreman might be most underrated player in the NHL

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NEW YORK -- This is how Bryan Little wants it. He'd just as soon steer clear of a swarm of TV cameras and the bold, racy headlines.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 01/11/2014 (3020 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

NEW YORK — This is how Bryan Little wants it. He’d just as soon steer clear of a swarm of TV cameras and the bold, racy headlines.

Oh sure, the Winnipeg Jets centre will be there — win or lose, during a personal slump or when the points are piling up — to provide an honest take for the press before and after games.

But while some absolutely love the big stage, Little would just as soon do his thing while completely flying under the radar. Maybe that’s what has made him such a good fit in Winnipeg, the NHL’s smallest market and a town that has been big on humility from its sporting stars since Bud Grant first said of touchdown celebrations: ‘Act like you’ve been there before.’

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Winnipeg Jets centreman Bryan Little may be the most underrated player in the NHL.

Still, knowing all that, here’s a question we throw out today for discussion:

Is Bryan Little the most underrated player in the National Hockey League?

“Oh man, I definitely think that,” began Evander Kane earlier this week. “He’s such a quiet guy and maybe that’s part of why he’s not known as well. But every guy that plays with him, you see his skills. I think he has one of the best shots on the team, one of the best shots in the league. He knows how to score goals, he has that goal scorer’s psyche.

“The thing is, he’s a pretty quiet guy. When he says something you’re taken aback because you’re almost surprised.”

It might seem ridiculous, given his numbers, that this Mr. Underrated topic is even being broached. Little is coming off a career year (64 points; 23 goals, 41 assists). He has been the Jets No. 1 centre since the team relocated here (and has that debate ever gone quiet, hasn’t it?) while being matched up nightly against some of the biggest pivots in the NHL.

Oh, and there’s this: he was 15th among NHL centres in scoring last season and currently leads the Jets in both goals (5) and points (9) through 10 games.

He is a first-round pick (12th overall in 2006), won gold for Canada at the 2007 World Junior Hockey Championship and was twice honoured with the Dan Snyder Memorial Award. In fact, when you read the criteria for the Snyder Award — given annually by the franchise to the player who “best embodies perseverance, dedication and hard work without reward or recognition, so that his team and teammates might succeed” — it could be said that might also be the perfect definition of Little himself.

Yet, when fans and media discuss the Jets, invariably the topics revolve around Kane’s unfulfilled potential, Ondrej Pavelec’s inconsistency, Dustin Byfuglien as a forward vs. defenceman, the young stars like Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba and the long playoff drought for the franchise.

Little? His name might come up once in awhile.

Mr. Underrated? Heck, he might be unappreciated even in his own market.

“I don’t really think about that kind of stuff,” Little said this week. “I’ve been asked about it before and I’ve heard people say that about me but, honestly, it doesn’t really matter to me. I don’t need attention. If they think I’m underrated or overrated, that’s other people’s opinions.

“It’s nice to be appreciated and when people pay you compliments like that, but at the end of the day I’m my biggest critic. I’m never satisfied with how things are going and always pushing to improve every game.”

Little’s game doesn’t always pop off the page. But given his hard minutes against top defensive pairings and rival No. 1 centres, given his work on the penalty kill and power play, it could be said his game has fewer peaks and valleys than any other player on the Jets’ roster.

“He’s pretty laid back. Nothing gets him too fired up… although he has that in him,” said Jets captain and linemate Andrew Ladd. “He’s a great pro. He works hard off the ice and on the ice and consistency-wise he’s there every game.

“I’ve played with him for a long time and appreciate a lot of the little things he does that makes it easier for his D-men or his wingers. On top of that, the speed and skill he brings… to me he’s really underappreciated. It’s not by his teammates, but by other people around the league.”

Mr. Underrated? You know what? Bryan Little is cool with that.

“I’m a quiet guy,” he said with a shrug. “I don’t really like being in front of the camera. I’ll do it, but if there’s another guy that will do it, I’m more happy if he does it instead.

“All that stuff… I just try to do my work on the ice. That’s just who I am.”

 

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

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