Which NHL players just don’t get the publicity they deserve? Each team has at least one player who is toiling away in relative anonymity. Contributors to their team who, whether they prefer it or not, are usually not in the limelight.
Some of these players are relatively new to the largest hockey stage in the world, and may soon become more well known to hockey fans. Others are veterans who have been in the NHL for years, but they don’t necessarily get the recognition they deserve.
These are the players which only the most astute hockey fans hold in the highest regard. You generally won’t see their names and faces on the cover of The Hockey News or Sports Illustrated. This list will take you through every NHL team and who their most underrated player is. When we say underrated here, we’ll be talking about how the players are viewed by the overall fanbase and media of the NHL, not necessarily how their team perceives them. Some of the players on this list may in fact be the best player on their team and are in no way underestimated by their team’s fanbase or local media. They are however, heavily overlooked outside of their market.
When conversations happen among the smartest hockey fans around in the bars and stands of the hockey arena, about which players really help their team to win, these are the names that are brought up. They won’t just rattle off the names you’ll see in an All-Star game. They’ll know who really makes a difference for their respective teams.
With respect to the younger players on this list, these are the names you just might be hearing more and more in the wider media relatively soon. Here are the most underrated players on every NHL team.
Anaheim Ducks – David Perron
David Perron came over to the Anaheim Ducks in the trade that sent Carl Hagelin to Pittsburgh. In his 28 regular season games with the Ducks, Perron notched 20 points (8 goals, 12 assists.) He also had a plus-12 on-ice rating, showing his value when he was out there, on both ends of the rink. His contract is up this summer and he could hit the open market. Based on how he was able to contribute for Anaheim, and his relatively affordable contract, the Ducks would be wise to re-sign Perron.
Arizona Coyotes – Michael Stone
You don’t hear much about defenseman Michael Stone, for the Arizona Coyotes, but he’s been strong at the point for them. Stone sat third overall on the Coyotes in assists for 2015-16, behind only Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Max Domi in that category. He was exceptionally strong on the power play for Arizona, notching 14 of his assists with the man-advantage. Look for Stone to get a significant raise on his entry-level contract, which paid him $1.15 million annually.
Boston Bruins – Torey Krug
Torey Krug was the third-highest paid defenseman on the Boston Bruins this past season, but he led all blueliners in points for the team. His 44 points put him sixth overall on the Bruins in 2015-16. The 25 year-old defenseman is set to become a restricted free agent in the summer of 2016, and although he was not paid meagerly for his services, he should be expecting a slight raise based on his performance.
Buffalo Sabres – Marcus Foligno
Marcus Foligno is a physical forward who can do his fair share of scoring. The 24-year-old left winger was second on the Buffalo Sabres with 193 hits in 2015-16. Foligno was ninth overall on the team in points with 23 (10 goals, 13 assists.) He was also able to contribute with a man-down, scoring two shorthanded goals for the Sabres. Marcus is set to become a restricted free agent in the summer of 2016, having been paid $1.875 million for the 2015-16 Sabres’ season.
Calgary Flames – Joe Colborne
Joe Colborne is nowhere near the top of the list of highest-paid Calgary Flames. He is much nearer to the top of the list in scoring, though. The 26-year-old forward was sixth overall on the team in points, with 44, just behind T.J. Brodie. When Colborne shoots the puck, he makes it count. His 19 percent shooting rate was highest on the Flames this past season, for any skater with significant playing time. Colborne will be looking at a raise over his $1.275 million salary after his contract expires this summer.
Carolina Hurricanes – Joakim Nordstrom
Joakim Nordstrom recently finished his third NHL season, having spent the first two with the Chicago Blackhawks, who drafted him in the third round. In 2015-16 with the Carolina Hurricanes, Nordstrom saw some significant playing time and made the most of it. The 24-year-old forward was eighth on the Hurricanes with 24 points. He was also one of the few forwards on the team with a positive on-ice rating. Nordstrom was rewarded for his play with a two-year contract extension through 2017-18, carrying a $1.275 million salary.
Chicago Blackhawks – Artem Anisimov
Artem Anisimov is a respected player in the NHL, but his name is not at the tip of the tongue when speaking about the best. Maybe it should be. Anisimov was sixth overall on the Chicago Blackhawks in 2015-16, having notched 42 points (20 goals, 22 assists) in 77 regular season games. His 16.5 shooting percentage was near the top of the list for Chicago, and was the best for any player with more than 20 games-played. That is quite considerable, when his teammates are Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Anisimov was also second on the team, behind only Toews, with 3 shorthanded goals in 2015-16.
Colorado Avalanche – Blake Comeau
Blake Comeau played out the first year of his three-year deal with the Colorado Avalanche in 2015-16. It was a good season for him. The veteran forward notched 36 points (12 goals, 24 assists), on an Avalanche team that underperformed, based on the success it had two seasons ago with essentially the same core. Comeau was also third on the team with a Corsi-For percentage of 46.6. Although he may not be Colorado’s top player, he’s not expected to be, given his $2.4 million annual salary.
Columbus Blue Jackets – Boone Jenner
With his unique first name, Boone Jenner does get a bit of publicity. Not nearly as much as he should, given his performance however. The 22-year-old second-round draft pick in 2011 signed a contract extension in 2016 which will pay him $2.9 million over the next two seasons. He certainly deserves it. Jenner was third on the team in points, with 49, just behind Cam Atkinson, while leading the team in power play points.
Dallas Stars – Mattias Janmark
Mattias Janmark recently completed his rookie season with the Dallas Stars, and it was a strong one. Ninth overall on the team in points, Janmark notched 29 (15 goals, 14 assists) in 73 regular season games. The Swedish forward was sixth on the team with a 53.9 percent Corsi-For mark, outpacing Jamie Benn and Valeri Nichushkin. His shooting percentage was also one of the highest on the Stars with a 13.9 mark. You didn’t hear much about Janmark’s season across the NHL though, making him one of the most underrated players.
Detroit Red Wings – Tomas Tatar
Tomas Tatar, a Slovakian forward, is surely known to Detroit Red Wings fans. Not as much to fans outside Detroit however. Tatar led the Red Wings in shooting percentage, for a player with 40 or more games played, with a 12.7 mark. He was third on the team with 45 points, behind only Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. His seven power play goals also tied him for second on the team with Gustav Nyquist. With the expected departure of Datsyuk to the KHL, perhaps Tatar’s name will be heard more around the league.
Edmonton Oilers – Brandon Davidson
Brandon Davidson has only spent parts of two seasons in the NHL with the Oilers. He hasn’t yet registered on the wider radar for NHL fans. If he keeps up his current performance, he will. The former sixth-round draft pick saw 51 games of action for Edmonton this year on defense. In that time, he produced the highest on-ice rating for the Oilers, with a plus-7. That speaks a lot to his contributions on defense, particularly on a team that finished second-to-last in the league with 70 points overall.
Florida Panthers – Reilly Smith
Reilly Smith has played for a few teams during his relatively brief time in the NHL. He seems to have found a comfortable spot with the Florida Panthers, where he is producing well under the radar. In 82 regular season games, Smith picked up 50 points (25 goals, 25 assists) while shooting 14.5 percent. His plus-19 on-ice rating exemplifies his value at both ends of the rink. Only Brian Campbell and Jussi Jokinen had a better Corsi-For rating than Smith’s 52.5, among skaters who played in 20 or more games.
Los Angeles Kings – Tyler Toffoli
Tyler Toffoli is no longer unknown in the NHL. Still, he isn’t as popular as his statistics might warrant. On a strong Los Angeles Kings team this past season, Toffoli led all skaters with a plus-35 on-ice rating. Only Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter had more points on the team than Toffoli’s 58 (31 goals, 27 assists). When the Kings were on the power play, Toffoli was at his best. He and Drew Doughty led Los Angeles with nine power play goals each.
Minnesota Wild – Nino Niederreiter
Nino Niederreiter led all Minnesota Wild wingers in shooting percentage for 2015-16 with a 12.6 mark. The 23 year-old native of Switzerland was fifth on the Wild in points during the regular season with 43. The former New York Islander has found his stride in Minnesota, increasing his points total over the past three regular seasons. Niederreiter also stepped up in the playoffs this season, notching six points, behind only Jason Pominville’s seven for the Wild.
Montreal Canadiens – Max Pacioretty
When we consider Max Pacioretty underrated here, it is in relative terms. The top point producer on the Montreal Canadiens simply doesn’t get the recognition he deserves. The 27-year-old left winger has notched 60 or more points in each of the last four full NHL seasons (not counting the lockout shortened season). In each of those seasons Pacioretty has scored at least 30 goals. Over the past five NHL regular seasons, Pacioretty is tied with John Tavares for fifth overall with 154 goals. Yet you rarely hear Pacioretty’s name mentioned in the same breath as Tavares.
Nashville Predators – Roman Josi
Everyone knows how good defenseman Shea Weber is for the Nashville Predators. But how about Roman Josi? He doesn’t get nearly the same recognition…yet. Josi’s point total has increased in each of his five seasons in the NHL. Most recently, Josi was second overall on the Predators with 61 points, behind only Filip Forsberg. Among defensemen in the NHL, Josi was fourth in the league behind just Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns and Kris Letang. Yet when people think about Nashville, Weber’s name always comes up first.
New Jersey Devils – Cory Schneider
This falls into the same category as Max Pacioretty for the Canadiens. Yes, fans know that the New Jersey Devils’ Cory Schneider was an All-Star. But do they really know how good he is? Do they know that he leads the NHL in save percentage (for goalies with 100 or more games) over the past six seasons with a .926 mark? Do they know that he also leads the NHL over the same time frame with a 2.17 GAA? Yes, Schneider is underrated by most fans. At least for now.
New York Islanders – Johnny Boychuk
The New York Islanders had a plus-16 goal differential in 2015-16. Johnny Boychuk was a large reason for that. The defenseman led all Islanders with a plus-17 on-ice rating. Although he doesn’t get the publicity that some of the better NHL defensemen get, Boychuk is no doubt in the category of the better defenders. It’s curious as to why he’s constantly overlooked, but there’s no doubt the Islanders value him a lot.
New York Rangers – Antti Raanta
Antti Raanta has quietly performed for the New York Rangers in a backup goaltender capacity. The Finnish netminder who fills in for Henrik Lundqvist has put up some strong numbers. In 2015-16, Raanta started 18 games for New York, while relieving Lundqvist in six more games. He won 11 of those games in which he appeared, with a .919 save percentage and 2.25 GAA. The Rangers know his value, if the rest of the league does not. New York recently signed Raanta to a two-year contract extension, worth $1 million annually.
Philadelphia Flyers – Michael Raffl
Michael Raffl, the 27-year-old forward for the Philadelphia Flyers, recently had his first full 82 game season in the NHL. He made it a good one. Raffl notched 31 points (13 goals, 18 assists), while leading all forwards in on-ice rating with a plus-9. His 14:18 of ice-time per game was not near the top of the list for the Flyers, and as he gets more of an opportunity to be on the ice, his stats will increase as well. Raffl was relatively affordable last season with a $1.1 million AAV. The Flyers recognized his value as they gave him a three-year contract extension with an AAV of $2.35 million.
Pittsburgh Penguins – Matt Cullen
Matt Cullen was key to the Pittsburgh Penguins continuing to perform well in 2016, in the absence of star center Evgeni Malkin. Penguins’ fans know how valuable he was, but it’s not clear that the general population knew just how much he contributed. Malkin was out of the Pittsburgh lineup for two significant periods of time this past regular season. In both instances, Matt Cullen stepped up and provided valuable minutes, keeping the Penguins season rolling. Particularly when down a man, Cullen showed his value, scoring three shorthanded goals.
Ottawa Senators – Jean-Gabriel Pageau
How many people outside of Ottawa are familiar with the name Jean-Gabriel Pageau? I can bet it isn’t many. At least not yet. The 23 year-old forward, selected in the fourth-round of the 2011 NHL draft, finished his fourth season with the Senators recently. 2015-16 was his first full season however, and he produced quite a bit. Pageau was sixth overall on the team with 43 points (19 goals, 24 assists), and first overall with a plus-17 on-ice rating. He also led the team in shorthanded goals with seven. Signed through next season at an AAV of $900,000, his salary will go up considerably if he continues the production from 2015-16.
San Jose Sharks – Marc-Edouard Vlasic
Much is known and discussed about the San Jose Sharks’ dominant forwards. How much are the team’s defensemen talked about though? In particular, Marc-Edouard Vlasic has been strong on the point for the Sharks, without getting nearly the publicity that some of his offensive teammates receive. The 29-year-old blueliner scored 39 points in 2015-16, the most in any single-season since he broke into the NHL as a 19 year-old. He did so in just 67 games. He was fourth on the team in on-ice rating with a plus-15, and contributed nicely when the games counted the most in the playoffs.
St. Louis Blues – Alex Steen
When it comes to the St. Louis Blues, all fans know that Vladimir Tarasenko is their primary offensive force. How many fans know just how valuable Alex Steen is to the Blues though? In just 67 games during the 2015-16 regular season, Steen notched a hefty 52 points (17 goals, 35 assists). The veteran two-way forward shot a respectable 9.9% and stayed in the positive with an on-ice rating of plus-3.
Tampa Bay Lightning – Ondrej Palat
Ondrej Palat has done quite nice for himself as a former seventh-round draft pick. The Tampa Bay forward recently notched 40 points (16 goals, 24 assists), in just 62 regular season games. His 13.7 shooting percentage put him behind only Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov (for players with 25 or more regular season games). Considering his AAV of $3.3 million, Palat certainly gives the Lightning a lot of bang for their buck.
Toronto Maple Leafs – P.A. Parenteau
P.A. Parenteau has only been with the Toronto Maple Leafs for one season, but in that time he’s done quite a bit offensively, in a difficult situation. Toronto didn’t get the number one overall draft pick for winning the most games this past season. It wasn’t for lack of effort on Parenteau’s part though. The native of Hull, Quebec gave the Maple Leafs quite a bit for the $1.5 million AAV his contract carried in 2015-16. The 33 year-old winger was second on the team in points with 41 (20 goals, 21 assists), behind only Nazem Kadri. He was third on the Leafs in shooting percentage (for players with 50 or more games) with a 11.9 mark.
Vancouver Canucks – Jannik Hansen
Vancouver had the largest negative goal differential in the NHL for 2015-16 with a minus-52. That was not due in any part to the contributions of Jannik Hansen though. The 30 year-old native of Denmark had a plus-16 on-ice rating. That mark was easily the best on the team. In 67 games he produced 38 points (22 goals, 16 assists). His shooting percentage of 18.8 was easily the best on the team as well. Underrated? You could say so.
Washington Capitals – John Carlson
The Washington Capitals clearly noticed the difference when one of their top blueliners, John Carlson, was out of the lineup for a significant period of time this season. Although he may not often be mentioned in the conversations about the best defensemen in the league, he is certainly worthy of consideration. Carlson led all Capitals, not just forwards, in points during the 2016 post-season, along with Alex Ovechkin at 12 each (both had 5 goals and 7 assists). No Washington skater logged more ice-time than Carlson’s 26:54 in the playoffs.
Winnipeg Jets – Mark Scheifele
How much do you hear about Mark Scheifele, when the discussion turns to the best young forwards in the game? Probably not as much as you should or will. The 23-year-old center was second in points on the Winnipeg Jets this past season with 61 (29 goals, 32 assists) and led the team in shooting percentage with a 14.9 percent mark. Scheifele will be due for a big raise over his contract’s AAV of roughly $1.56 million from 2015-16.
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