Every fan base has favorite players. Frequently, those favorites are the kind of players that tend to go overlooked in the national media. The league’s superstars get plenty of coverage. Everyone knows about Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, Carey Price, and Erik Karlsson. But superstars need support, and the players who make these superstars look good are often undervalued. Let’s take a look at each team’s most undervalued player, those players who offer huge impact to their teams, but tend to be overlooked by national media and rival fans.
Anaheim Ducks – Rickard Rakell
In a team full of top-tier players, it is truly a shame that most look past the young, Swedish center Rickard Rakell. A former 2011 first round pick, he reached the NHL just one year after he was drafted. Since then, he’s performed better every year.
Rakell’s peak was last year, though, when he scored 69 points in just 77 games. Additionally, Rakell is on an extremely team-friendly contract. Ducks fans have realized just how valuable Rakell is to their future; perhaps the rest of the league will soon follow suit.
Arizona Coyotes – Derek Stepan
The Coyotes probably surprised some people when they traded a package that included the 2017 7th overall pick and a great defensive prospect to acquire Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta. But young GM John Chayka saw the value of Stepan, a player who has never scored fewer than forty points in eight NHL seasons, and has topped fifty each of his last five campaigns.
Stepan fit right in in Arizona, collecting 56 points, one shy of his career high. He now looks poised to be a centerpiece of a young Arizona team that will be hoping to build on a strong second half last season. Stepan has three years left on a team-friendly $6.5 million contract, and should be a fixture in the desert for a long time.
Boston Bruins – Torey Krug
Torrey Krug has recorded 40 or more assists each of the last three seasons. That places him fifth amongst defensemen in that period. And yet, Erik Karlsson, Victor Hedman, Brent Burns, and to a lesser extent John Klingberg, are widely discussed NHL stars, while Torrey Krug is barely mentioned, even on the Bruins.
Krug is small, and an offensive defenseman, but he still pulls his weight in the defensive zone. The team carries a Corsi For Percentage (CF%) of 54.9% while he’s on the ice, meaning that he helps his teammates control the play. Krug’s offensive skills and defensive responsibility make him a very valuable player in Boston.
Buffalo Sabres – Evan Rodrigues
The Buffalo Sabres have had some difficult years in the recent past, but things seem to be looking up after GM Jason Botterill overhauled the roster this summer. One of the players who isn’t a newcomer but could play a pivotal roll in the upcoming season is Evan Rodrigues.
Rodrigues is a fast skater who served in a critical bottom six role in 48 games last year, and he looks prepared to play a more consistent role in the upcoming season. Rodrigues was a rare bright spot for the Sabres last year, and will look to continue to establish himself as the team grows into its new identity.
Calgary Flames – Mikael Backlund
In the last couple of years, it would be hard to deny that Backlund has been flying under the radar. He’s put up three straight 45-point seasons while maintaining a solid defensive game. Last season, he ranked third amongst all centers for shorthanded time-on-ice.
This past February, the Flames committed to Backlund with a six year contract. He now stands firm as a part of their revamped forward core, which now includes Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, Elias Lindholm, and James Neal. They will look to make Calgary a contender in the stacked Western conference.
Carolina Hurricanes – Jaccob Slavin
It is difficult to choose only one underrated player from the Hurricanes roster, as it seems like they have so many. One that stands out is Slavin: his impressive defensive game and puck moving skills were on display last season and he can skate with the best of them. He also ranked first amongst defensemen in takeaways last season.
Slavin led the Hurricanes in shorthanded time-on-ice, cementing himself as a key defender for the organization. Drafted in the fourth round back in 2012, Slavin climbed up the ranks in an impressive prospect pool and earned a seven-year contract extension with an average annual value of $5.3 million.
In a few seasons, people are going to understand how good Slavin really is. He isn’t known for his production, but as he continues to improve with the rest of the Hurricanes youngsters, it will rise.
Chicago Blackhawks – Brent Seabrook
Seabrook isn’t necessarily underrated, but he does receive a lot less attention than the rest of the Blackhawks core. Players like Patrick Kane, Toews, Duncan Keith and Corey Crawford are usually the topics of discussion while Seabrook lays low.
Over the years, his contribution to the Blackhawks has been monumental. He’s been in the 30 to 50 point range for most of his career while playing a shutdown role against top opposition. During the playoffs, he’s been known to score huge goals in key situations for the Blackhawks while also being a great leader.
He’s represented Canada several times and the spotlight never seems to be on him. It would not be crazy to say Seabrook should have been among the Norris finalists a few times during his career.
Colorado Avalanche – Erik Johnson
Mikko Rantanen took the title of Avalanche’s most underrated player last season, but after an 84 point year, it’s hard to suggest he’s overlooked. Erik Johnson certainly is, though, as he’s been a stalwart defenseman in Denver for years.
Johnson is a former first overall pick, and has been labeled as something of a disappointment considering that designation. But he is as steady as NHL defensemen come. Despite missing twenty games last year, he still logged the 12th most shorthanded minutes in the NHL on the league’s fourth best penalty kill. Johnson is indispensable to the Avalanche, just as much as any other defenseman in the league. He deserves much more recognition than he gets.
Columbus Blue Jackets – Seth Jones
How is Seth Jones not discussed amongst the league’s top defensemen? Acquired by the Blue Jackets in the trade that sent Ryan Johansen to Nashville, Jones has been a lockdown defenseman for Columbus ever since.
Despite the attention Zach Werenski rightfully garnered in his rookie year, Jones led Columbus’ defensemen in points, time-on-ice, and power play time-on-ice last season. Jones is the type of cornerstone defender that you build a team around, and he’ll play a big role in Columbus for a very long time.
Dallas Stars – Radek Faksa
Last year’s article chose John Klingberg for the Stars, with Radek Faksa listed as an honorable mention. But with Klingberg’s 67 points and sixth-place finish in Norris Trophy voting, his stock has risen considerably. Meanwhile, though Faksa finished seventh in voting for the Selke, he is still very overlooked in the league.
Despite only scoring 33 points in each of the last two seasons, Faksa has emerged as one of the league’s top defensive forwards. He had a surprising 33.4% offensive zone start percentage (oZS%) meaning that Ken Hitchcock, a defense-first coach, took every opportunity he could to start Faksa in the defensive zone. That’s high praise from a veteran coach like Hitchcock, and it speaks very highly of Faksa’s skills.
Detroit Red Wings – Andreas Athanasiou
With just shy of 200 games under his belt, Andreas Athanasiou has been one of the best even strength point producers for the Red Wings. Last season, 30 of his 33 points were at even strength and 15 of his 16 goals were as well. His blazing speed and puck skills allowed him to score some highlight reel goals.
Unfortunately, Athanasiou has been under-utilized by head coach Jeff Blashill. His production could rise if he gets some extra ice time and power play time. He is still young and has time to develop, but his skating is already at an elite level and he is a breakout candidate for next year.
Edmonton Oilers – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was one of a series of three consecutive first round picks for the Oilers, and the only one that remains in Edmonton. Yes, Taylor Hall went to New Jersey and won a Hart Trophy in short order, but that shouldn’t discredit what RNH has accomplished in his career. He’s eclipsed 40 points in five of his seven NHL seasons, and as topped 50 in three of those.
RNH was third on the team in goals, assists, points, and power play points last season, trailing only superstars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in those categories. He brought a point share, an estimate of the number of points in the standings one player was responsible for, of 5.9, indicating that he brought a significant contribution to a team with only 78 points last season. Nugent-Hopkins may be resented somewhat for his draft capital, but he shouldn’t be faulted for being the top pick in a weak class. He’s a very good NHL contributor.
Florida Panthers – Aleksander Barkov
Barkov is arguably one of the most underrated players in the league, not just on the Panthers. He was drafted second overall in a loaded draft year and has been a stud for Florida. Injuries have hurt his totals, but in the past two seasons, he’s maintained a points-per-game average of 0.80 or higher. In last season’s NHLPA player’s poll, Barkov took six percent of the vote as the league’s most underrated player.
His all-around game is unbelievable and teammate Vincent Trocheck said he would be the talk of the league if he played in a big hockey market. At 6’3″, 214 pounds, Barkov has all the tools to become an elite center in the NHL and he will only get better. Last year, in his first fully healthy season, he posted 79 points and finished third in voting for the Lady Byng and fourth for the Selke.
Los Angeles Kings – Tyler Toffoli
With star players like Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter and Jonathan Quick on the squad, it’s hard for Toffoli to grab some of the L.A. spotlight. Last year, though, he bounced back from a shortened season with 47 points in 82 games.
His production often flies undetected, but it’s safe to say Toffoli is a first line winger on most teams and his numbers prove it. He is a fantastic even-strength scorer and has many good seasons ahead of him. His $4.6 million average annual value is a great deal for the Kings too.
Minnesota Wild – Ryan Suter
Despite his massive contract and appearances for Team USA, Suter remains somewhat underrated and here’s why: For the longest time, he’s been at the top of the NHL in time on the ice and average time on the ice per game. He’s been playing a shutdown role against opposing teams’ top lines for his entire career while hovering around the 40 point mark.
It’s a crime that Suter doesn’t have a Norris trophy to his name already, as he’s been a workhorse on every team he’s played for. No matter what situation he’s put in, whether it’s the penalty kill, power play or crucial even strength situations, Suter is reliable.
Montreal Canadiens – Brendan Gallagher
Despite the Canadiens’ struggles, Brendan Gallagher just keeps doing his thing. Four of his six NHL seasons have seen him score 40-plus points, and he set a new career high with 54 just last season. He plays 16 minutes a night, and last season he led all forwards in shot block attempts and power play goals, while coming in second in turnover differential.
Gallagher may be diminutive, at just 5-foot-9, 181 pounds, but he brings a ton of talent to the ice. Additionally, at a cap hit of just $3.75 million per season for the next three years, he’s an absolute steal for a Montreal franchise that’s in need of something positive. Gallagher is one of the more under-appreciated players in all of hockey.
Nashville Predators – Mattias Ekholm
Ekholm is the fourth piece in Nashville’s perfect top-4. He is tasked with a lot of the tough defensive assignments. In the 2017 playoffs, he and P.K. Subban shut down elite players like Ryan Getzlaf, Vladimir Tarasenko, and the Patrick Kane/Artemi Panarin duo.
He is not as flashy as his partners, but he is extremely efficient in his own end and receives a ton of praise from the Nashville fan base. A lot more people saw what made Ekholm so great in the most recent playoffs, but he still doesn’t get the recognition he deserves in that loaded defensive core in Music City.
New Jersey Devils – Nico Hischier
A number one overall pick is rarely undervalued (although Hischier isn’t the only such player on this list). Still, Hischier was shockingly overlooked in his rookie year. He posted 52 points and helped take the New Jersey Devils from an all but irrelevant squad into a playoff team. Taylor Hall even credited Hischier as a major factor in earning him the Hart Trophy.
And yet, Hischier finished only seventh in the voting for the Calder Trophy behind a group of players who outscored him in points. Point totals aren’t everything, though, and Hischier has a very bright future. Hall said it best: “He’s a great young player, and he’s going to be a great, great player for years to come.”
New York Islanders – Anders Lee
Few 40 goal scorers have received less attention in recent memory than Anders Lee. As the whole of the Islanders’ franchise was preoccupied with the John Tavares drama, Lee quietly topped his 2016-17 34 goal performance by reaching the coveted 40 goal mark. He actually lead the team, including the now-departed Tavares, in that category.
Lee also dominated on the power play, leading the team in power play time-on-ice and scoring 14 goals in that time. With Tavares gone, Lee will likely have an opportunity to shine, which could be very good for him, as he’ll be an unrestricted free agent at season’s end. With the Islanders’ franchise in need of a rebuild, expect to see Lee as a very hotly pursued trade commodity at the trade deadline, if not sooner.
New York Rangers – Mika Zibanejad
When the Rangers sent Derick Brassard to the Ottawa Senators in exchange for Mika Zibanejad and a second round pick, it was widely assumed that the Senators got the better end of the bargain. But Brassard has already moved on to Pittsburgh, whereas Zibanejad has become a fixture for the Rangers.
Zibanejad came in second on the team in points scored last season, and also led all forwards in face-off percentage. Like many players on this list, his contract is very team-friendly, with four years left at $5.35 million. Though the Rangers are rebuilding, don’t expect Zibanejad to go anywhere unless the return is very significant.
Ottawa Senators – Cody Ceci
Though Erik Karlsson is the most discussed defenseman in Ottawa, and with good reason, it is a shame that his teammate Cody Ceci is overlooked as a result. Ceci actually led all Senators in time-on-ice last season, and wildly outpaced any teammate in shorthanded time.
Ceci was also not afraid to sacrifice his body, leading in teammates in blocked shots and placing eighth in that category in the entire league. Ceci’s weakness is puck control: he turns the puck over far too much, and as such, some perceived that the $4.3 million he was awarded in arbitration was too much. Still, on a team that has two star players (in Karlsson and forward Mark Stone) and not a whole lot else, Ceci is as undervalued a player as the Senators have.
Philadelphia Flyers – Wayne Simmonds
Since being traded to the Flyers, Simmonds ranks 15th in the NHL in goals. In that same span, only Alex Ovechkin has scored more goals on the power play. Simmonds finally scored 30 goals in 2015-16 and managed to repeat the feat in 2016-17 on a Flyers team that had a hard time scoring.
Though 2017-18 was a bit of a down year for Simmonds, it was something of a surprise when the Flyers reunited with James Van Riemsdyk, a player possessing many of the same skills as Simmonds, this offseason. With Simmonds in the last year of his contract, it remains to be seen whether the Flyers and GM Ron Hextall will be able to re-sign him. Wherever he ends up, Wayne Simmonds is a very valuable player that will be a steal for years to come.
Pittsburgh Penguins – Patric Hornqvist
Much like Simmonds, Hornqvist gets most of his work done in front of the net. Arguably one of the best net-front presence players in the league, he has been tallying 50 points per season for awhile. He was a 30-goal scorer on Nashville and has never been under 20 goals per season (in a full campaign).
He has the ability to get under his opponent’s skin and isn’t afraid to go to the dirty areas to get the puck. Obviously, playing with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Phil Kessel, Hornqvist doesn’t see much of the spotlight, but he’s still managed to produce. Oh, did I mention he was the last pick of the 2005 NHL draft?
San Jose Sharks – Marc-Edouard Vlasic
He finally got the raise he was looking for, but Vlasic still doesn’t get his dues from other fan bases. His lack of production is what makes him somewhat shadowed by his teammate Brent Burns. But Vlasic gets the job done in the defensive zone, playing the tough minutes against the best players from around the league and doing a very good job at shutting them down.
Other coaches and managers know just how good he is, which is why he represented Canada at the 2014 Olympics and 2016 World Cup and received an eight-year contract extension.
St. Louis Blues – Jaden Schwartz
Schwartz came in second in the NHLPA’s vote for the most underrated player, and there’s good reason. While Vladimir Tarasenko steals all the headlines in St. Louis, Schwartz is every bit as valuable as his superstar teammate. The arrival of Brayden Schenn in St. Louis validated this further, as the two Saskatchewan natives found immediate chemistry and formed what was one of the best lines in the NHL at times last season with Tarasenko.
Injuries have been all that have held Schwartz back during his career, as he’s missed parts of several seasons and most of one year with different ailments. If he can play a full season next year with Schenn at his side, Schwartz is poised to be a breakout player in the NHL, who could easily score sixty or even seventy points.
Tampa Bay Lightning – Steven Stamkos
Is it possible that the last great player to cause free agent drama before John Tavares could be “undervalued?” Well, on a team that has elite superstars like Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman, he may be. Stamkos, like Schwartz, has missed significant time with injuries in his career, but when healthy, he’s one of the league’s unparalleled goal scorers.
Last season, Stamkos quietly amassed 86 points, his highest total since the 2011-12 season, while being totally overshadowed by Kucherov. It could be argued that no team, save maybe the Penguins, has two forwards as absolutely elite as Stamkos and Kucherov, but since it’s now Kucherov in the spotlight, Stamkos can be tabbed as undervalued.
Toronto Maple Leafs – Nazem Kadri
Nazem Kadri may be on the best contract in the NHL. At just $4.5 million for the next four years, Kadri is a steal for a team that is hoping to find space for four extraordinary forwards (Tavares, William Nylander, Mitch Marner, and Auston Matthews). Despite some controversy in the playoffs last year, it can’t be denied that Kadri is a very good player in this league.
Kadri has eclipsed 40 points in three consecutive season. Each of the last two years, he’s had 12 power play goals, an accomplishment which lead the team in 2017-18. Kadri would be a great player on a normal contract, but on his current deal, he is invaluable to Toronto.
Vancouver Canucks – Bo Horvat
With the breakout, Calder-nominated campaign of Brock Boeser last season, it would be easy to say that he is the Canucks’ best player. But that might be an injustice to Bo Horvat, the young center who continues to improve each year in the NHL. At just 23, Horvat already has three 40-point seasons to his name, and he was on pace to set a new career high last year had his season not been shortened by injuries.
Horvant adds a strong defensive game to his offensive skills, making him a complete player. Vancouver is slowly turning it around with their prospects, but there is still a long climb ahead and Horvat is going to help carry the load as their number one center for years to come. As his totals climb, so will his recognition around the league. He’s just that good.
Vegas Golden Knights – Paul Stastny
Is it possible that the biggest free agent signing in a team’s (admittedly short) history could also be their most undervalued player? When the team is the Vegas Golden Knights, each of whom seemingly had a breakout season last year, and the player is Paul Stastny, who is continuously undervalued, the answer may be yes.
Stastny, who was often labeled as “overpaid” during his four year stint in St. Louis, showed his value when matched with elite players after being traded to the Winnipeg Jets at the trade deadline. He collected 13 points in 19 games during the regular season, and added 15 more in 17 playoff games for the Jets. Add on that he’s an elite face-off winner (he won them at a 56.3% clip during his time in St. Louis) and you have a truly undervalued player who will make a big impact on the Knights.
Washington Capitals – Nicklas Backstrom
When the NHLPA ran their aforementioned player’s poll, Nicklas Backstrom took the vote as the league’s most underrated player, and it’s easy to see why. The first point he records in the 2018-19 season will be the 800th of his career, and at just 30, it seems likely he’ll shatter the 1,000 point threshold. Still, he’s played second fiddle his whole career to scoring superstar Alex Ovechkin, and now even younger players like Evgeny Kuznetsov have seemingly overshadowed Backstrom.
The Swedish center seems nonplussed, though, as he continues to put up 70 point seasons (something he’s done each of the last 5 years). Besides, Backstrom will probably trade a higher profile in the league for the Stanley Cup Championship any day.
Winnipeg Jets – Blake Wheeler
Wheeler has a rare combination of size, speed and skill that all come together to make him one of the most well-rounded players in the NHL. He has scored over 60 points in his last six full seasons. He’s represented the US at almost every international tournament and is one of the best leaders in the league.
Bob McKenzie stated in his podcast that if a young hockey player had to pick a player to model his game after, it should be Wheeler. With a breakout 91 point season this past year, Wheeler may stop being overlooked, but with players like Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers on his team, he will continue to overlooked in Winnipeg.