RYAN FINNERTY says forward Lee Esders is one of the most underrated British players in the Elite League after a positive first season with Sheffield Steelers.
The 23-year-old was a surprise addition to the Steelers roster last summer, switching to the defending champions after four years with hometown club Hull Stingrays.
Esders always expected to be fighting for ice time at his new club and, while that may have been the case initially, his performances have gradually been rewarded with additional responsibilities on special teams, something which has come in tandem with growing respect from both his coach and team-mates.
While never prolific in terms of scoring, Esders has discovered a knack of scoring points when it matters, most notably in Friday night’s 3-2 shoot-out loss to leaders Belfast Giants which earned the Steelers what could prove to be a vital point in the regular season title race.
“To be honest, when we picked Essie up from Hull, we weren’t sure what we would be getting from him,” said Steelers’ player-coach Finnerty, whose team will look to close the gap on Belfast with a win at Braehead Clan on Thursday night. They are currently eight points behind with three games in hand.
“But he’s proved he’s not a low-end Brit. He makes sure he does the little things.
“That is crucial and is what separates the good and bad British players, because there are some who just want to be the goalscorer and the hero, but they forget about all the little things that go into making you a better player.
“And that’s what Essie does; he’ll take a hit to make the play and he’s good in his own end.
“And before anyone can be an offensive threat they had better learn their defensive game and that’s something that young British players lack at times and Essie is definitely underrated.”
After Thursday’s trip to Glasgow, Steelers welcome Drew Bannister’s Clan team to South Yorkshire on Saturday night ahead of Sunday’s visit from Cardiff Devils as Finnerty’s team try to ensure there is still everything to play for ahead of their double-header weekend in Belfast on March 16-17.
Belfast face a double-header at struggling Edinburgh Capitals this weekend with the likelihood that they will take the maximum four points on offer meaning the Steelers can ill-afford any slip-ups ahead of their trip across the Irish Sea.
HULL STINGRAYS’ forward Dominic Osman says optimism is high that the Yorkshire club can spring a surprise in the post-season play-offs.
Sylvain Cloutier’s team were unfortunate not to walk away with anything from Saturday night’s encounter at Sheffield Steelers but, despite the odd wobble, they managed to hold off a determined Fife Flyers on home ice on Sunday night to record a 7-5 triumph, thereby ending a five-game losing streak.
The return of leading goalscorer Jereme Tendler - back after serving a six-week suspension for testing positive for cannabis - and defenceman Martin Ondrej added some welcome depth to the Hull line-up as they showed signs of being able to mix it with the top teams again.
“We want to make the play-offs and finish as high as we can and knock a team off,” said Osman.
“That is our goal and we are very optimistic.
“Tendler creates a lot of offence for us and is great back on ‘D’ as well - and Marty is a great defenceman too. To have those guys back helps us enormously.”
Seventh-placed Hull lead the bottom four teams in the league competing for the two remaining play-off spots and are currently eight points ahead of ninth-placed Dundee Stars, who have two games in hand and who visit Hull on the last night of the season. The Stingrays return to action on home ice this Saturday when they welcome Nottingham Panthers (7pm). The following night sees them