He was never drafted.  He has never represented his country in an international tournament.  At 30 years of age, he has already played for five different NHL teams.  He’s in the final year of his current contract, a two year deal that pays him a modest $1.55 million per season, and it’s a deal that is easily the richest of his career.

Despite that, little known Steve Montador is a truly remarkable defenceman.

Generally, I’ve seen Montador described as a rugged, defensive defenceman.  There’s some truth to that description.  He’s not a huge player, especially for his position (just 6’, 207lbs) but he fights (he’s fought 20 times in the past two seasons), he throws hits (currently leads the Sabres in hits with 40 in 25 games), and he blocks shots (currently leads the Sabres with 51 blocked shots in 25 games).  Perhaps more importantly, he hasn’t been a minus defenceman once in the post-lockout era; despite playing for some lousy teams he’s a cumulative plus-39 since the lockout.

But describing Montador as a defensive defenceman also does him a disservice, because it doesn’t come close to covering the entirety of his game.  He’s an incredibly underrated offensive defenceman, one of the best in the game at even-strength.  The following chart shows his 5-on-5 scoring going back to 2007-08 (the earliest data provided by Behind The Net)

Season 5-on-5 PTS/60 NHL Rank (Defence, min. 40GP)
2007-08 1.39 4th
2008-09 1.10 19th
2009-10 1.00 30th
2010-11 1.41 13th (min. 10 GP)

Those are staggeringly good offensive numbers.  Just for the sake of comparison, here are some of the game’s top offensive defencemen by the same measure – 5-on-5 points/60 – over the same span:

Season Green Lidstrom Keith Gonchar Boyle
2007-08 1.11 1.54 0.91 0.84 0.67
2008-09 1.58 0.97 1.09 0.78 0.91
2009-10 1.77 0.92 1.61 1.13 1.16
2010-11 1.25 1.30 0.84 0.43 1.39

As one can see from the chart, Montador’s 5-on-5 numbers compare favourably to some of the game’s best-known offensive defenceman.  Since 2007-08, just three defencemen have managed to record one point or more for every 60 minutes of even-strength ice-time they play in every single season: Montador, Green, and Andrei Markov.  That’s rarefied air.

Despite his incredible even-strength offence, Montador remains an unknown quantity on the power play.  Not since 2007-08, when he was the Panther’s fourth defensive option with the man advantage has Montador played anything approaching significant minutes on the unit.  Interestingly, in 2007-08 he led all Panthers defencemen in goals, assists and points on the power play (when adjusted for ice-time).

Another interesting statistic for Montador is his Corsi rating relative to his teammates.  Corsi is a plus/minus for shot attempts, and Montador has led all blue-liners on his team for the last three seasons, meaning that the puck was more likely to be fired on the opposing net with him on the ice than with any other defenceman from those teams.

Thankfully, after years of bouncing around the league, it appears that someone is recognizing his value (even if that recognition has yet to stretch to power play time).  Montador’s been playing on the top even-strength pairing in Buffalo, alongside Jordan Leopold, and he has responded: he’s presently on pace for career highs in goals, points, and with a plus-16 rating he’s already eclipsed his best plus/minus mark.

It’s about time.