Most Underrated Players in the NHL
Everybody knows Sidney Crosby. Alexander Ovechkin. Jonathan Toews. But behind each of these superstars' individual trophies and championship rings, there are plenty of unsung heroes.
Crosby had fleet-footed blueliner Kris Letang as a scoring option. Ovechkin had playmaking wizard Nicklas Backstrom feeding him. Toews had reliable netminder Corey Crawford as his last line of defense.
The Letangs, the Backstroms, the Crawfords, always underappreciated, always indispensable.
Here are 15 of the more underappreciated but indispensable players in the NHL right now.
Aleksander Barkov, Center, Florida Panthers
In September 2018, NHL.com asked 61 current players who they thought was the most underrated player in the league today. Aleksander Barkov was the clear "victor."
Toiling for a losing team in Florida, it's easy to forget how respected Barkov is around the NHL for his two-way acumen.
"Guys in the smaller market, sometimes they don't get the recognition they deserve," said a Metropolitan Division forward in 2017. "Barkov — he's crazy. He's so good. He's so skilled."
Nicklas Backstrom, Center, Washington Capitals
In the aforementioned NHL.com players poll, only two players received more than three votes for most underrated player: Barkov received 10, while Nicklas Backstrom earned eight.
That said, Backstrom's brilliance during the Capitals' Stanley Cup run in 2018 certainly turned heads. Besides being Alexander Ovechkin's primary set-up man — Backstrom is second in the league in assists since 2007-08 — the Swedish pivot also is a solid defensive forward.
"The last couple years he's gotten more attention, but still not enough as he deserves," said Calgary Flames forward Elias Lindholm.
Evgenii Dadonov, Right Wing, Florida Panthers
Evgenii Dadonov took the long path to stardom.
Originally drafted by the Panthers in 2007, the Russian national met with middling success when he tried North American hockey from 2009 to 2012. He became a star in Russia, returning to Florida in 2017.
Joined at the hip since then with Aleksander Barkov, they've become one of the more dynamic duos in hockey. The Russian winger has averaged nearly a point a game since he's come back. Currently signed to a three-year, $12 million dollar contract, he also represents one of the better bargains in the sport.
Rickard Rakell, Left Wing, Anaheim Ducks
Over the last two full seasons, Rickard Rakell is tied for third in the NHL in even strength goals, just behind more celebrated stars Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews and Vladimir Tarasenko.
Working in anonymity in Anaheim, the 25-year-old winger also is earning, relative to his talents, a negligible amount. In October 2016, the Ducks locked him down to a six-year, $22.8 million dollar extension. In comparison, Tarasenko inked an eight-year, $60 million dollar contract in July 2015.
Anders Lee, Left Wing, New York Islanders
Over the last two full seasons, Anders Lee is tied for fourth in the NHL in goals, just behind Ovechkin, Nikita Kucherov, Evgeni Malkin and Patrik Laine.
Lee might be the league's least-known 40-goal scorer, achieving that feat in the 2017-18 season.
Set to become an unrestricted free agent after this season, the 28-year-old is about to become much better known.
Jonathan Marchessault, Center, Vegas Golden Knights
Three NHL organizations gave up on Jonathan Marchessault before the Vegas Golden Knights inked the 27-year-old to a six-year, $30 million dollar contract in January 2018.
The speedy, creative 5-foot-9 forward rewarded their faith by finishing second on the team in regular-season and playoff scoring, as the expansion Golden Knights shocked the world by advancing to the Stanley Cup Final.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Defenseman, Arizona Coyotes
A Pacific Division opponent said of Oliver Ekman-Larsson in 2017, "If he's in New York or Toronto, people would be talking about him as the best defenseman in the league."
New York or Toronto is a far cry from Arizona, where the Coyotes have struggled with bottom-three home attendance in every season of Ekman-Larsson's career. Not a lot of fans are watching one of the better blueliners of his generation.
Viktor Arvidsson, Right Wing, Nashville Predators
In each of the last two seasons, Viktor Arvidsson has led or finished second in Nashville team scoring.
Not bad for the sixth highest-paid Predator, in terms of annual salary.
Arvidsson's bargain seven-year, $29.75 million dollar contract, signed in July 2017, has helped Nashville become one of the best teams in the NHL, enabling the organization to spend generously in other areas of the roster.
Torey Krug, Defenseman, Boston Bruins
Torey Krug has quietly accumulated the fifth-most points among all defensemen over the last two seasons, outscoring more celebrated blueliners like John Carlson and P.K. Subban.
The most-used rearguard on Boston's power play by a wide margin, the 5-foot-9 Krug has helped the Bruins become one of the most-feared power plays in the league.
John Gibson, Goaltender, Anaheim Ducks
Only four starting goaltenders have a combined save percentage above .920 over the last two years: Sergei Bobrovsky, John Gibson, Pekka Rinne and Devan Dubynk.
Only one netminder in this group doesn't have at least a top-five finish in Vezina Trophy voting for the NHL's best goaltender during the last two seasons: Gibson, who tends net in Anaheim, in a time zone that doesn't allow for many views from the general managers voting on this award.
Jaccob Slavin, Defenseman, Carolina Hurricanes
Being the top defenseman in the emptiest arena in the NHL is a thankless job, but 24-year-old Jaccob Slavin has made a name for himself as one of the league's better defensive defenseman.
There aren't many Carolina Hurricanes fans, but all of them should be grateful to have Slavin locked in for the next seven years and $37.1 million. At $5.3 million per season, that's one of the lowest annual rates for a No.-1 defenseman in the league.
Mark Scheifele, Center, Winnipeg Jets
Perhaps underrated only in the United States, Winnipeg's top center is one of only nine forwards to average over a point per game over the last two years.
The 25-year-old might be signed to the best contract in the NHL, inked in July 2016, at eight years, $49 million.
Cam Atkinson, Right Wing, Columbus Blue Jackets
Often overlooked because of his height, the 5-foot-8 Cam Atkinson quietly has registered five consecutive 20-goal seasons. In that timespan, the winger has shown a penchant for the clutch goal: He's eighth in the league with 33 game-winning goals.
At least his team respects him in full. In November 2017, the Blue Jackets inked Atkinson to a seven-year, $41.125 million dollar extension.
Logan Couture, Center, San Jose Sharks
For over a decade, the Sharks have been a perennial NHL power. For much of that time, Logan Couture has been less celebrated than fellow forwards Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau, but equally important in all situations and zones.
Over the last two years, the 29-year-old Couture has led San Jose in goals, as age and injuries have started to take their toll on Thornton, especially. As Thornton inches toward retirement and Pavelski nears unrestricted free agency, the Sharks might become Logan’s team sooner than later.
Mark Stone, Right Wing, Ottawa Senators
Amidst all the turmoil in the Ottawa Senators organization, Mark Stone keeps playing exemplary two-way hockey. Stone has enjoyed four straight 20-goal campaigns and is one of only four wingers over the last decade to finish in the top-six in Selke Trophy voting for best defensive forward.
Stone has an admirer in Blackhawks superstar Patrick Kane. "He's really good at takeaways and good offensively," Kane told NHL.com. "He doesn't really get a lot of recognition."