Some NHL players never receive enough credit for the on-ice production they offer to their respective teams. Every season, there are players who fly under the radar and manage to have a great season and help their team every game without making the headlines a la Sidney Crosby or Jonathan Quick.
These unheralded and underrated players often play in the shadow of another star player and never get enough credit for the little things they do on the ice on a nightly basis.
Nearly two-thirds into the 48-game season that was shortened by the lockout, I gathered a panel of 12 writers here at The Hockey Writers to determine who are the top 10 most underrated players in the NHL nowadays. Only the 10 players with the most votes made it to this undervalued list.
THW Panel: Fred Poulin, Mark Ascione, Marcy Di Michele, Andy Graziano, Steven Ives, Anatoliy Metter, Jeff Ponder, Chris Wassel, Mark Ritter, Sheng Peng, Ross Bonander, Sean Griffin
Honorable mentions: Matt Duchene (Colorado Avalanche), Antti Niemi (San Jose Sharks), Chris Kunitz (Pittsburgh Penguins), Jakub Voracek (Philadelphia Flyers), Martin St. Louis (Tampa Bay Lightning), Teddy Purcell (Tampa Bay Lightning), Craig Anderson (Ottawa Senators), Jiri Tlusty (Carolina Hurricanes), Oliver Ekman-Larsson (Phoenix Coyotes)
10. Brandon Prust, C/W, Montreal Canadiens (3 votes)
Salary in 2013: $2,500,000
Best Overall Season: 2010-11 = 82 GP, 13 goals and 16 assists for 29 points with a +2 plus/minus rating
The heart and soul of the Canadiens, Prust is working and battling hard every shift despite his lack of flashy offensive skills. At 6’0”, 195-lbs, Prust isn’t the biggest man out there, but he’s certainly one of the toughest as he is not afraid to fight anyone. Before going down with a shoulder injury, Prust was having a great season with the Habs, scoring 4 goals and 5 assists for 9 points in 25 games with a team-leading +13 differential, as well as 81 penalty minutes. Prust is more than a tough guy as he can also take a regular shift, kill penalties and take face-offs.
“Everyone needs a player like this on their roster. Fearless, hard working penalty killing machine has also found a scoring touch this year with the once conference leaders. Currently out with shoulder injury, has really mentored the younger players.” – Andy Graziano (read Andy’s work here)
9. Patrice Bergeron, C, Boston Bruins (3 votes)
Salary in 2013: $5,000,000
Best Overall Season: 2011-12 = 81 GP, 22 goals and 42 assists for 64 points with a +36 plus/minus rating
Bergeron does everything well on the ice: he wins faceoffs efficiently (61.8%), he kills penalties and he can play at the point on the power play. The 27 year-old pivot is a combined +77 in the past three campaigns and he has already won a Stanley Cup, an Olympic Gold Medal and World Championships. Arguably the best two-way forward in the NHL nowadays, Bergeron is a lock to make Team Canada for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
“Always recognized for his incredible defensive play, Bergeron is also a force in the offensive zone, putting up about 60 points each year.” – Sean Griffin (read Sean’s work here)
8. Francois Beauchemin, D, Anaheim Ducks (3 votes)
Salary in 2013: $3,500,000
Best Overall Season: 2012-13 = 31 GP, 4 goals and 14 assists for 18 points with a +20 plus/minus rating
A dark horse for the Norris Trophy this season, Beauchemin has never been known for his offensive prowesses, but rather for his steady defensive play. A Stanley Cup winner with the Ducks in 2006-07, Beauchemin is playing against the opposition’s best players game in and game out, playing an average of 24 minutes per game, while killing penalties and playing on the second power play unit for the surprising Ducks. A great shot blocker, Beauch is adept at blocking the passing lanes and a poke-checking his opponents. He does all the little things that often go unnoticed on the ice.
“Anaheim is probably the most underrated team in the NHL so it is no surprised that Anaheim would be represented on this list. I just cannot fathom Beauchemin (a defensive defenseman) with 18 points at this stage of the season or almost any season, but here we are. It is a testament to what Bruce Boudreau has done with his defensive corps in Anaheim.” – Chris Wassel (read Sean’s work here)
7. Matt Moulson, LW, New York Islanders (3 votes)
Salary in 2013: $3,133,333
Best Overall Season: 2011-12 = 82 GP, 36 goals and 33 assists for 69 points with a +1 plus/minus rating
A late bloomer, Moulson has been playing in the shadow of John Tavares’ spotlight in Long Island for four years now. Again this season, the 29 year-old sniper is producing at a hectic pace with Tavares and Brad Boyes, with 11 goals and 22 assists for 33 points in 32 games and a -11 rating. A power play specialist, Moulson is among the league leaders in power play points with 14 (7 g and 7 a) and has a knack for finding the back of the net: he scores on 14% of his shots. Moulson had scored 30 goals or more for three consecutive seasons prior to the NHL lockout.
“Matt Moulson has been piling on the points since the New York Islanders gave him a shot at full-time NHL duties. Of course, one can definitely argue that playing alongside John Tavares will increase anyone’s point totals, but Moulson has quietly been amassing 30 or more goals for the Islanders over the last three full NHL seasons. Moulson’s goal and point totals have been steadily increasing each year and there is no doubt that Moulson is one of the NHL’s most underrated goal-scorers.” – Anatoliy Metter (read Anatoliy’s work here)
6. Mikko Koivu, C, Minnesota Wild (3 votes)
Salary in 2013: $6,750,000
Best Overall Season: 2009-10 = 80 GP, 22 goals and 49 assists for 71 points with a -2 plus/minus rating
Mikko, the younger of the Koivu brothers, is finally having the chance to play with a very talented winger in Zach Parise this season. In 30 games, he has recorded 7 goals and 19 assists for 26 points and a +3 differential for the surging Wild. The captain of the Wild is good at both ends of the ice and is a very undervalued play-maker who finally has the chance to play for a contender. His leadership qualities and hard work will finally be recognized should the Wild go deep in the playoffs.
“Hopefully, his 500th game is a game where everybody starts talking and taking notice of him,” Wild head coach Mike Yeo said. “I think he’s a player that’s vastly underrated in this league.”
5. Dan Girardi, D, New York Rangers (3 votes)
Salary in 2013: $3,325,000
Best Overall Season: 2011-12 = 80 GP, 5 goals and 24 assists for 29 points with a +13 plus/minus rating
Playing almost 25 minutes a game for the Rangers, Girardi is one of the best shot blockers in the league with 80 blocked shots this season. The undrafted defenseman has recorded 1 goal and 9 assists for 10 points for the struggling Blue Shirts. He keeps his game so simple that all the good things he does on the same almost completely go unnoticed: killing penalties, making good outlet passes, clearing the front of his net, etc. Don’t forget Girardi when it comes to Team Canada’s roster for Sochi, as the undervalued blue liner is as steady as they come on the blue line.
“People know he’s good, they just don’t know how good. Best positional and shot-blocking D in the NHL. Canada needs to include him on their Olympic team, but will probably make the mistake of passing him over for a far inferior bigger name like Bouwmeester.” – Steven Ives (read Steven’s work here)
4. Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau, RW, Colorado Avalanche (4 votes)
Salary in 2013: $4,000,000
Best Overall Season: 2011-12 = 80 GP, 18 goals and 49 assists for 67 points with a -8 plus/minus rating
A late bloomer, Parenteau needed almost ten years to finally make it to the NHL after being drafted in 2001 by the Anaheim Ducks. PAP blossomed in Long Island after a short stay with the Rangers, posting two 50-point seasons alongside Matt Moulson and John Tavares before signing as an unrestricted free agent with the Avalanche this summer. In 31 contests this season, the playmaker has recorded 14 goals and 17 assists for 31 points for the last-place Avalanche. Despite going on three consecutive seasons with solid performances, Parenteau remains an underrated top-six forward around the NHL.
“After stops in Chicago and Manhattan, Parenteau found a comfortable home on the Island in a top-six role. Scoring 20 goals in 2010-11 and 18 goals in 2011-12, Parenteau moved West and is now playing top-line minutes with the Colorado Avalanche. At age 29, Parenteau seems to be hitting his stride later than other players.” – Jeff Ponder (read Jeff’s work here)
3. Loui Eriksson, LW, Dallas Stars (5 votes)
Salary in 2013: $4,250,000
Best Overall Season: 2010-11 = 79 GP, 27 goals and 46 assists for 73 points with a +10 plus/minus rating
Voted the most underrated play by his peers, Eriksson is a very good two-way forward who keeps flying under the radar and putting good offensive numbers year after year. After a slow start this season (before Jamie Been was re-signed), Eriksson has recorded 9 goals and 12 assists for 21 points in 31 games for the disappointing Stars. Eriksson is big and strong, and is almost impossible to knock off the puck. He has a deadly wrist shot and he sees the ice like a playmaker. He is also capable of shadowing the best forwards in the game, and he can anchor a forward group defensively.
“From 2009-2012, Eriksson played three NHL seasons and didn’t fail to record less than 70 points in any single campaign. Jamie Benn might get a lot of the attention for the Dallas Stars, but Eriksson has been one of the Stars’ most efficient producers. Eriksson has quietly been a force for the Stars since the 2008-2009 NHL season and it will only be a matter of time before the forward gets his due notice.” – Anatoliy Metter (read Anatoliy’s work here)
2. Patrik Elias, C/W, New Jersey Devils (5 votes)
Salary in 2013: $6,000,000
Best Overall Season: 2000-01 = 82 GP, 40 goals and 56 assists for 96 points with a +45 plus/minus rating
A two-time Stanley Cup champion, the ageless Elias is currently riding a 14-season streak with at least 15 goals. The 36 year-old veteran is having another strong season with the Devils, having notched 10 goals and 19 assists for 29 points in 32 games with a +8 rating. With 923 points in 1,074 games, Elias is slowing nearing the prized 1,000 point mark as an NHL player. He is one of the best Czech players to ever play in the league. A very underrated defensive player, Elias holds the franchise records in goals, assists and points.
“Consistent producer who just never seems to get the recognition he deserves.” – Mark Ascione (read Mark’s work here)
1. Andrew Ladd, LW, Winnipeg Jets (8 votes)
Salary in 2013: $4,400,000
Best Overall Season: 2010-11 = 81 GP, 29 goals and 30 assists for 59 points with a -10 plus/minus rating
One of the most underrated captains in the league, Ladd is almost single-handedly carrying the Jets on his back and willing them towards the playoffs. With 14 goals and 18 assists for 32 points in 33 games with a +9 rating, Ladd brings a physical and spirited dimension to the game similar to Ryan Callahan of the Rangers. He has almost no notoriety around the league and although he would be a perfect fit, gets no mention when it comes to players who could be on Team Canada in Sochi in 2014. After winning a Cup with both the Hurricanes and the Blackhawks, Ladd knows what it takes to lead a team to the Stanley Cup.
“A two-time Cup winner, Ladd is not only the leader of the Winnipeg Jets because of the “C” on his sweater, but because of everything he brings to the team on and off the ice. He scored a career high in goals two seasons ago with 29 and followed that up with 28 last year. He’s currently leading the Jets in scoring with 14 goals and 32 points and has evolved from being simply a third line grinder to becoming a real goal scoring threat. His all-around game is helping the Jets challenge for a playoff spot.” – Marcy Di Michele (read Marcy’s work here)
Andrew Ladd drops the mitts against Dion Phaneuf
This wraps up THW’s panel on the top 10 most underrated NHL players this season. Do you agree with the list above or do you think we missed someone?
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A long-time Joe Sakic fan, Fred, 35, is a freelance sports writer and translator. Fred earned a Bachelor of Translation in 2002 at Laval University in Quebec City. He also writes on the Montreal Canadiens for HabsAddict.com and he is an associate editor and a baseball columnist on Dobberbaseball.com. He is also fluent in English, French and Spanish.