Hockey is one of the most team-based sports in the entire world. While basketball has nine or 10 players that usually see the court during any given game and baseball has 12 or 13 depending on bullpen usage, a hockey team must have 20 players firing on all cylinders on a nightly basis. Usually, a team’s first line consists of their best three forwards at each position, and the same thing applies to the first defence pairing. Sometimes, though, one player - be it because they fit a certain role or are on a hot streak - gets placed on a line with the team’s other stars and their play gets boosted to a point well beyond their career averages. Those players can be found on this list. Some were already-good players who became stars and some were bottom-feeders who turned into first-liners. Without further ado, happy reading!
15 Patrick Maroon
It’s not a coincidence that Patrick Maroon’s career year in 2016-17 came when he was put on a line with the second-best hockey player on the planet. The St. Louis native began his NHL tenure as a member of the Anaheim Ducks in 2012 after bouncing around in the Philadelphia Flyers’ minor league system for a number of years. He became a typical middle-six winger, averaging 0.387 points per game with the club over 204 games.
He was then traded to the Edmonton Oilers, where he took on a role on the top line alongside Connor McDavid as a skilled enforcer. His production increased dramatically, as he has recorded an average of 0.577 PPG over 97 games with the Oilers. Maroon is certainly not a “star player” in any right but he has become more of a well-known name since he was paired with McDavid.
14 Jake Guentzel
As a rookie Guentzel won his first Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the most recent NHL season. Guentzel was drafted 77th overall, not expecting to be in the NHL for a few years if at all. Due to many injuries on the Penguins, he was called up. Usually, 3rd round picks tend to be third or fourth liners that don’t play as much as top players. Guentzel is an exception to this because the player he played with in his rookie season was Sidney Crosby.
In his inaugural campaign, he posted 33 points in 40 games, having a plus/minus of +10. During the NHL playoffs, Guentzel played with Crosby again. He achieved most of his points during this playoff run - 21 of his 33 points were accumulated in the playoffs. It is too early to tell if Guentzel is going to be a star player since this was his rookie season, but playing with a world-class talent such as Crosby, it is undoubtably a huge benefit. His quality of hockey in this most recent season was likely due to his linemate.
13 Jari Kurri
Admittedly, Kurri is a bit of a stretch to be on this list. The Finn was a great player in his own right, but his statistics were certainly boosted by the fact that he played a good chunk of his career with The Great One himself, Wayne Gretzky. Kurri came to the Oilers from Jokerit in Finland in time for the 1980-81 season. He was almost immediately put on a line with Gretzky, which definitely helped with his transition to North American hockey.
Kurri put up a ridiculous 1.226 points per game during his time playing with Gretzky in both Edmonton and Los Angeles. The “Finnish Flash” recorded a much more pedestrian 0.803 PPG when he wasn’t on a team with “Gretz.” Jari Kurri was undoubtedly a terrific hockey player in every aspect of the game, but the fact that he spent the majority of his NHL time on teams with Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier certainly helped him to have the Hall of Fame career that he did.
12 Brent Seabrook
This isn’t to say that Brent Seabrook isn’t a solid defenseman, because he is. It is to say that the reason he has achieved star status instead of just being an average top-four defenceman is because he has been D-partners with Duncan Keith for the majority of his NHL career. Seabrook was drafted a lofty 13th-overall by the Blackhawks in the 2003 Entry Draft but was then sent back down for two more years of junior in the WHL. The next season he began the year in the AHL before finally being called up to the main roster.
Seabrook was paired with the minute-munching Keith right away and the two formed what has become one of the premier D-pairings in the league for the better part of twelve seasons. The two were selected to the 2010 Olympic roster for Team Canada so that they could play together, as chemistry is important in short tournaments. Justice was served for the 2014 edition of the team, though, when Keith was again selected and Seabrook was left off the club. Brent Seabrook is an average defenceman being carried by a minute-munching, superstar D-partner.
11 Chris Kunitz
This Canadian-born left winger has had a fairly good run in the NHL since his rookie debut. It’s no secret that Kunitz had an awesome season with the Anaheim Ducks, in his first full year. From that point he steadily decreased until being traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins, accumulating 145 points in 225 games. Once he was traded to the Penguins, he started to shine, beginning his first 50-game season with 32 points and increasing every year.
The move to the Penguins helped his confidence and by the time he played with linemate Sidney Crosby, he accumulated 52 points in their first season together. In the 2013-14 season, Kunitz had a career high of 68 points with linemates Crosby and Dupuis. After this season, Kunitz was selected for the 2014 Winter Olympics to play with Crosby, when Kunitz was definitely not first-line-Olympic-team ready. Overall, this player seems to only shine when there is a star player on his line.
10 Jonathan Cheechoo
Unless you’re a pretty hardcore hockey fan, you probably wouldn’t be able to come up with the answer for who won the 2005-06 Rocket Richard Trophy as the NHL’s leading scorer. That’s because it was an outlier season for an otherwise average player: Jonathan Cheechoo. The Ontarian began his career at a respectable pace, putting up 63 points in his first two combined seasons. Then came 2005-06.
Cheechoo began the year with 15 points in his first 24 games. When November rolled around, the Sharks made a blockbuster trade to acquire 1997 1st-overall pick Joe Thornton. From that point of the season onwards, while playing with Thornton, Cheechoo racked up 72 points in just 57 games. He again put up a solid 69 points in 76 games in 2006-07 before being separated from Thornton and never having the same kind of success for the remainder of his career. The statistics don’t lie - Jonathan Cheechoo was only good because of Joe Thornton.
9 Dany Heatley
The “not Dany Heatley” Twitter account may be just as famous as the man himself these days, but the German-born winger did indeed score 50 goals in ‘06-’07, following up his 50-goal campaign in ‘05-’06. After being taken 2nd-overall in the 2000 NHL Draft, Heatley had a solid rookie year and won the Calder Trophy for his efforts. He was eventually dealt to the Senators where he was put on a line with possible Hall-of-Famer Daniel Alfredsson and star Jason Spezza. The trio combined for 296 points in their first season together, and were close to the league lead in each of the three following seasons after that.
Heatley was then moved to the San Jose Sharks where he spent most of his time playing with Joe Thornton. Over his six seasons spent playing with Alfredsson, Spezza, and Thornton, Heatley averaged 1.061 points per game. When he was in Atlanta, Minnesota, and Anaheim, playing with non-superstar linemates, he averaged a much lower 0.726 PPG. Heatley’s career basically went down the drain after he was moved away from Thornton in San Jose, showing that much of his outstanding career statistics were likely due to who he played with.
8 Ville Leino
This Finnish player has been a mediocre winger his entire NHL career, posting 119 points in 286 games over the span of it thus far. His first full season in the NHL was playing for the Philadelphia Flyers. In this season, he played with a top centreman: Claude Giroux. Leino started playing with Giroux in the playoffs of 2009-10 and carried it over to the next season
It is easy to say that Leino’s success was because he played on the top line with Giroux. During his first season, he gained the title of a playoff hero. He started playing on the top line with Giroux in the 2009-10 playoffs, posting 21 points in 19 games. His success continued when he played with Giroux for a full season. During this season, Leino posted a career-high of 53 points and had a +/- of +22. Overall, his performance with the Flyers was due to the talented Giroux. His stats after leaving the Flyers and Giroux dropped dramatically, showing his reliance on his former linemate.
7 Jakub Voracek
Voracek is another Philadelphia Flyers player on this list that is good because of his linemate. During his career he has posted fairly good stats because he has played with the same player almost every season except the beginning of his time with the Flyers. Voracek has been seen as a good player because of Claude Giroux.
In Voracek’s first season with the Flyers he posted 49 points in 78 games. This is when Voracek did not play with Giroux. In the season where Voracek posted all-time highs - 81 points in 82 games - he showed that the influence of a star player helped his game. The majority of these points were on goals that Giroux assisted and vice-versa. Since this time, the two have been separated and we can see that his performance has decreased by a lot. This indicates that Voracek’s success is based on the influence of a star player, in this case Giroux.
6 Pascal Dupuis
Dupuis is another Canadian-born player who falls on this list because of a superstar on the Pittsburgh Penguins. Dupuis was an average player for most of his career. He played for the Minnesota Wild for six seasons before being traded to a few teams and then to the Penguins, where he has spent most of his career. He played 334 games for the Wild, only posting 141 points. He was never seen as a star player, but instead a third-liner. Playing with Crosby changed the whole face of his career.
When Dupuis was traded to the Penguins, his career made a turn-around. In the 2011-12 season, Dupuis posted a career high of 59 points while playing on a top line with Crosby. Since Crosby is a star player, Dupuis and Kunitz were two players who seemed to excell playing with him on the top line, even though they did not deserve to be. Overall, Dupuis was a driven player that had ambition when playing with Crosby, but his name has been more widely broadcasted because the majority of his playing time has come alongside one of the most talented players of his time.
5 Jake Muzzin
Like Brent Seabrook earlier in this list, Jake Muzzin is a good defenceman who looks great because of his D-partner. The 28-year-old slow-bloomer was selected 11th overall in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft by the Pittsburgh Penguins but after three years, was not signed to an entry-level deal by the club. The L.A. Kings took a chance on him instead, and were rewarded with four AHL seasons from Muzzin before he FINALLY cracked the big-league squad permanently in 2013.
He floundered as a third-pairing player until he was partnered with superstar Drew Doughty. After this, Muzzin shot up in ice time, points, and salary for his next contract. He even earned a spot on the 2016 Canadian World Cup roster alongside his L.A. D-partner. Jake Muzzin may owe some of his success and wealth to hard work and perseverance, but he owes the majority of it to Doughty for making him look better than he truly is.
4 Anson Carter
Anson Carter is far from a star hockey player, but he is certainly a memorable fan-favourite. Any hockey fan from the late-'90s to the late-'00s can picture Carter’s seemingly too-small helmet perched atop that mop of dreadlocks and the goofy smile he wore as he fought some of the toughest scrappers of the era. That image of the Toronto native as an enforcer is how many people remember him. He did, however, have one standout season late in his career where it looked as if Carter might go from veteran 4th-liner to once-again established goal-scorer.
When you investigate the situation further, though, it becomes clear that the reason for Carter’s success in 2005-06 was not due to a sudden realization of hidden talent within himself, it was due to his Vancouver Canucks linemates - Henrik and Daniel Sedin. The now-43-year-old Carter managed to put up 55 points that season, an impressive 33 of which were goals! When considering that his points average over the last four seasons before that was 8.25 points, 55 sounds amazing. Carter did have success in his early NHL years but playing with Henrik and Daniel at a point in his career where it looked as if all was lost certainly helped the right winger reach a career-high in goals.
3 Christian Ehrhoff
Ehrhoff is another person on this list that is not a star player but rather had the help of an amazing team behind him. As a defender, this German-born player posted average stats, getting traded from team-to-team until he landed with the Vancouver Canucks. During his two years with the Canucks organization, he posted 94 points in 159 games and recorded a plus/minus of +55!
This jump in points was due to defence partner Alex Edler and goaltender Roberto Luongo. Edler is still currently one of the top defenders on the Canucks, making it easy for Ehrhoff to excel. During this time, Luongo was a solid goalie entering the prime of his career. Ehrhoff was selected 106th overall, not expecting to even go to the NHL, having a solid team around him really helped him succeed. Overall, most of his success during those two seasons was because of the team he had surrounding him.
2 Artemi Panarin
As the current main man in the “they’re only good because of their linemates” argument, Panarin has had most of his success since his 2015 jump from the KHL to the NHL credited to the fact that he plays on a line with Patrick Kane. The Russian averaged 0.696 points per game in 263 KHL matches and managed to jump up to 0.932 PPG in 162 NHL contests. Some may credit that to him maturing and entering the prime years of his career around the time of his signing with the Blackhawks, but most know that it is more to do with the fact that he was immediately placed on a line with one of the most dynamic, crafty players in the entire NHL.
Panarin won the Calder as Rookie of the Year that season, and put up similar numbers this past year. At one point in the 2016 season, 16 of Panarin’s 18 goals had been assisted by Kane, and that kind of statistic has stayed relatively consistent so far throughout The Bread Man’s short NHL career. It will be very interesting to see how the 25-year-old fares next season as the newest member of the Columbus Blue Jackets without a true superstar to play with!
1 Rob Brown
An all-time personal record of 115 points in one season is quite uncommon for a player of this magnitude unless it was due to other reasons. This Canadian-born right-winger began his NHL career back in the 1987-88 season with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Back in 1986 when Brown was drafted, he didn’t go until the third round, 67th overall. In his first season, he accumulated 44 points in 51 games, which is quite good for a rookie campaign, but it wasn’t until the following year that his stats spiked drastically.
In the 1988-89 season, Brown’s points increased by 71. This was all because of an all-time Penguins franchise player, Mario Lemieux. During this season alone, Lemieux achieved an NHL career high of 199 points himself. Playing with a superstar like this really helped Brown’s game. The following years after this, statistical averages declined. Thus showing us that his amazing season of 1988-89 was due to the well-known Hall-of-Famer who was the most talented player of his time. Brown was certainly not a star-player but rather a player who benefited from playing with one.