It's easy to evaluate the elite NHL Draft picks, players such as Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews. It's also easy to determine rookies who can now be classified as busts such as Magnus Paajarvi, Jordan Schroeder or Nail Yakupov. But for the follow 15 players, their evaluation by management and fans have left them at times under-appreciated and often insanely underrated.
Sometimes for young NHL players, their level of expectations are set so high that they cannot ever match their professional projections. For others, they were or have been selected by a team in which their talents didn't fit in with the team and once they were given a fresh start, they blossomed into a valuable commodity.
While credit is certainly given to the players themselves for their on ice production, a nod has to be given to the scouting staff that went through the process of finding these diamonds in the rough and making the other 29 NHL teams regret passing on these talented, overlooked individuals.
15 Wayne Simmonds
He may not be as underrated as others on this list and deservingly so, but there are still many throughout the league and the NHL fan base that don't give the Philadelphia Flyers Assistant Captain the credit that he warrants.
Drafted by the LA Kings in 2007 with the 61st overall pick, the gritty, hard-nosed right winger from Ontario has been a key member of the Flyers organization for the past six seasons. During this period, Simmonds has put the biscuit in the basket at least 25 times or more in five of his six seasons and other than the shortened 2012-13 season, has appeared in at least 75 games per. For those that still question Simmonds rankings in the game, consider this fact, over the past three seasons, only other five players have led their teams in goals every year; Crosby, Ovechkin, Perry, Pacioretty and Pavelski. Not a bad group to keep company with.
14 Ben Bishop
It's well known that goalies take longer to develop into the NHL game more so than forwards and for good reason. Ben Bishop is proof of this. After being drafted with the 85th pick in the 2005 NHL Draft, average hockey fans are just now finding out how good the 30 year old Colorado native really is. After spending the last three and a half years in Tampa Bay as their number one netminder, in which Bishop posted at least 35 wins each season, the Lightning moved their starting goalie to the LA Kings just prior to the NHL Trade Deadline rather than risk losing him to free agency this summer.
While it looks like teammate Jonathan Quick has regained his starting spot with the Kings after a lengthy rehab from injury, having a rock like Bishop as backup makes the Kings a scary team come playoff time (if they make it). If by chance Bishop does hit the free agent market this summer, you better believe there will be a number of teams lined up for his services.
13 Viktor Arvidsson
Standing at 5'9", the Nashville Predators forward will struggle to find a time in which he isn't the smallest player on the ice, but that hasn't stopped the talented right winger from giving his team every reason to showcase the Swede on the top line. Yes, Pekka Renne and newcomer P.K. Subban have dominated the headlines, but for the third year forward, 2016-17 looks to be his breakout season.
After a slow start during his first 62 games over a two year span, in which he tallied only 16 points, Arvidsson is hovering among the top three in terms of points for the Preds (52) and ranks second on the team with 26 goals. Selected 112th overall by the Preds in the fourth round of the 2014 Draft, Arvidsson is one of the reasons why Nashville has seen an increase in their scoring and has positioned the team right in the middle of the Western Conference playoff race.
12 Shayne Gostisbehere
His name is a mouthful to say, but if he continues along the path that he's set in his first two years in the league, the Philadelphia Flyers 23 year old defenseman has a chance to become a household name for many years to come.
With the 78th overall pick in 2012, the Flyers appear to have found their leading blueliner of the future. While "Ghost" hit a sophomore slump late in 2016 and in the early weeks of 2017, he's recently returned to the same form that made him a rookie sensation. Whether he's contributing with the lead or secondary assist, Gostisbehere has proven to be a valuable asset on the Flyers power play unit that has hovered among the top ten in the league this season. As an offensive minded defenseman, the Florida native has drawn comparisons to Hall Of Fame defender Paul Coffey.
11 Evgeny Kuznetsov
Usually a first round selection isn't considered to be an underrated talent, but very few people outside of Washington (and Russia) knew of the Capitals 26th pick in the 2010 NHL Draft.
If you were to tell someone that Kuznetsov dropped more points that Alex Ovechkin last season and is just a handful behind "The Great Eight" this season, chances are they would look at you a bit funny. In just his third season in the NHL, Evgeny has turned around a rough start to the 2016-17 season and has tallied 34 points since January 1st. Whether he is centering for his fellow Russian teammate or placed between Justin Williams and Andre Burakovsky, Kuznetsov has quickly proven to be a reason for the Washington Capitals recent successes.
10 Anthony Duclair
He may be in the middle of a massive sophomore slump, but if the Arizona Coyotes young left winger, who is a former 80th overall pick, can find a way out of the muck and back to the level of play he displayed during his first full season in the NHL, the Coyotes will have made a steal of a trade with the New York Rangers.
In parting with long time defenseman and fan favorite Keith Yandle, the Coyotes were looking towards the future by trading for Duclair in hopes that he would once again mesh with his former Canadian Jr. National Team member, Max Domi. If Duclair is able to convert his junior league numbers and confidence into the big leagues, Arizona will have a deadly first line combination on their hands.
9 Tyson Barrie
He was drafted with the 64th pick in 2009 by the Colorado Avalanche and did not post his rookie season until February 2012, but the Victoria BC native has done his part in making sure that he remains a part of the Avs long-term future.
As one of the least talked about offensive defensemen in the league, Barrie may have seen his stats dip over the last year, after contributing 53 points in 80 games just two years ago, but still remains among the team leaders as the Avalanche try to figure a way out of the Western Conference basement, a place they've had a permanent residence in since the 2014-15 season. While his defensive skills still need improvement, his offensive skills will be a major contribution to the Avalanche finding success.
8 Jaden Schwartz
He was a top twenty selection in the 2010 NHL Draft (14th to be exact), but not many people relate Jaden Schwartz to the level of someone who warrants such a pick. After joining the club full time in 2012, the speedy forward dropped back-to-back 25+ goal seasons the next two years before an elbow injury limited his production to just 33 games last year.
With front line options such as Vladimir Tarasenko, Alex Steen, Paul Stastny and David Perron to choose from, the fifth year pro isn't the biggest name on the roster when it comes to the spotlight, but considering that he's only 24 years old, there is plenty of opportunity for Blues management and fans to appreciate the quiet growth and production of one of their most valuable assets, especially as the team continues to battle for a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
7 Vincent Trocheck
The Florida Panthers plucked the high scoring middle man in the third round of the 2011 NHL Draft with the 64th overall pick. After getting his feet wet with a twenty game schedule in 2013-14, Trocheck also split time between the main roster and the farm the following season, with the heavy part of his commitment as a Panther.
Last year, the 23 year old center found himself in a full-time position and rewarded the club with 25 goals and 28 assists in 76 games. This season, Trocheck is on pace to eclipse those numbers as he's currently sitting at 22 goals and 27 helpers. As the Panthers find themselves in the Eastern Conference playoff race, they're also transitioning towards the future as sixteen members of their roster are under 30 years old with Trocheck setting the performance bar for his teammates.
6 Brock Nelson
When you play behind John Tavares, it's very easy to go unnoticed, but for the 30th overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, it's only a matter of time before his talents become appreciated on a grander scale. Averaging 40+ points and 20+ goals in each of the previous two seasons, Nelson is on pace to add a third year to that streak at the completion of the 2016-17 season.
Should Tavares decide to leave the Barclays Center next season, Nelson will fit onto the first line seamlessly and should the captain decide to stay, the Islanders could tinker with their lineup to run the two snipers together to create a very potent scoring attack. At 6'3" and 200lbs, Nelson combines a special blend of speed, size and power to a game that is still developing, which is a scary package for the rest of the league to have to deal with.
5 Jaccob Slavin
Quick, name one of the Carolina Hurricanes best young players. Go ahead, take a moment. Chances are, with a less than impressive record that has the team out of the Eastern Conference playoff race, you would be lucky to come up with more than one name. Most of you might be able to come up with Jeff Skinner or Sebastian Aho. But chances are you're forgetting about one of the best up-and-coming young defensemen.
Sure, statistically he won't blow you away, but as a two way puck moving blueliner, you may not get any better. Entering his second season with the 'Canes, Jaccob Slavin has already surpassed his 20 point total from his rookie year and is on pace to pocket 33 points. As the 120th pick by Carolina in the fourth round of the 2012 NHL Draft, the Denver, Colorado native has quickly established himself as a top line defender with a deadly combination of size, speed and puck handling skills.
4 Ondrej Palat
In just his fifth year in the NHL, Tampa Bay left winger Ondrej Palat has been a major reason why the Lightning remain relevant in the Eastern Conference despite the loss of Superstar Steven Stamkos. Chances are you have no idea that Palat was actually drafted 208th overall (in the 7th round) when you look at how polished his game is.
Despite kicking off this season with a slow start, the 25 year old Czech winger has provided Tampa with point production on either the first or second lines when healthy. In his first NHL season, Palat played in 81 games, but the past two years he dressed for 75 and 62. Of the Lightning's 71 games to date, Ondrej has missed only seven games and has tallied 37 points. Although he won't match his sophomore production, Palat remains a key component on Tampa Bay's quest for another Stanley Cup run.
3 Gustav Nyquist
The Detroit Red Wings have a knack for finding diamonds in the rough during the NHL Draft and the Swedish winger is just one of their latest finds. Selected 121st overall, the Wings didn't commit to Nyquist for a full season until 2014-15. After bouncing back and forth between the NHL and AHL for his first could of years, Nyquist's last two years have been placed on either of the top two lines as the team tries to climb out of the Eastern Conference basement and back into becoming the constant playoff contender that they were once known for.
While Henrik Zetterberg is running away with the team lead in points, Nyquist is lumped with a young crew of talent and potential for returning the Red Wings to prominence. Over the last couple of seasons, very few Detroit players have impressed statistically, but the Swede has shown to be a key component in the rebuild of the Motor City.
2 Brandon Saad
When you start your NHL career playing with the likes of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith, it's hard to get noticed, but the young left winger from Pittsburgh did his best during his four years with the Blackhawks.
As the 43rd overall pick in the 2011 Draft, the left winger found himself as part of a multi-player deal during the 2015 offseason and a fresh start in Columbus. Last season, Saad led the Blue Jackets in scoring with 53 points, while this year, the fifth year forward is a major reason why Columbus is surprising everyone in the NHL as one of the top three teams in the league. As a quality two-way forward, Saad had the privilege to take bits and pieces of attributes from his former Blackhawks teammates and quietly develop into one of the best young players in the league.
1 Brad Marchand
He's a player that you hate to play against, but would no doubt love to have on your team. And while he has a reputation of being an annoying little gnat, Marchand has turned into one of the leagues top scorers this season, joining such elite players as Patrick Kane and Connor McDavid atop this seasons scoring race.
Selected with the 71st pick in the 2006 NHL Draft, Marchand has been known more for the amount of time he's spent in the sin bin than for the pucks he's put or helped put in the net. After joining the Boston Bruins full time in 2010-11, Marchand proved that he could be a valuable two way asset, one that helps with the scoring load, but also gets under the skin of opponents. Two years ago, Marchand posted a career high 95 penalty minutes with only 42 points. Last year, he shaved off five minutes of jail time and increased his point total to 60 in 77 games. This season with only 62 PIMs to date, Marchand has posted a career high 79 points. Maybe bad boys really can change their ways.