The superstars are the foundation of every Stanley Cup winning team and they sell the tickets, but every team is more than just them.
He is not the flashiest or most productive player, but Henrique has been a strong addition to the Ducks lineup since they acquired him from the New Jersey Devils a few years ago. He is having an especially strong season this year that is sneaking under the radar. He has 15 goals in 48 games and has posted dominant possession numbers (53 percent shot attempt share) on one of the league's worst possession teams.
The Coyotes have quietly and quickly become a larger payroll team and have spent the past couple of years acquiring some bigger-name players. Phil Kessel, Taylor Hall, Derek Stepan, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Carl Soderberg have all been recent additions, while the team maintains big commitments to a lot of its own young players. Garland has been one of the bigger surprises over the past couple of years and is on track for close to 30 goals this season. Not bad for a 2015 fifth-round pick.
During the 2015 NHL draft, the Bruins had three consecutive first-round picks and passed on a lot of outstanding players. (Mathew Barzal, Kyle Connor, Thomas Chabot were the next three picks after the Bruins' picks.) While that is not ideal, they still ended up getting a really good young player in DeBrusk. The 23-year-old is already up to 57 goals in his first 183 games and looks like he should have a nice career as a 25-30-goal winger and outstanding second-liner behind the Bruins' All-Star top line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak.
Jokiharju was supposed to be a key part of the Chicago Blackhawks defense, but the team made the shocking decision to trade him before the season for Alex Nylander. It has not worked out well for Chicago; it is looking promising for the Sabres. He is still only 20 years and looks like he can be a part of the Sabres' long-term defense as a key building block next to 2018 No. 1 overall pick Rasmus Dahlin.
Goaltending has been the one big question for this Flames team, but Rittich has really taken big steps toward solidifying that spot. This is his first year as the team's full-time starter, and he played his way into the NHL All-Star Game. Considering how his career began (undrafted, playing for two years in the Czech League), he is quite the success story.
Sebastian Aho is the established star in Carolina, and Andrei Svechnikov is the emerging superstar. But Teravainen has been one of the Hurricanes' best all-around players since arriving on the team via trade before the 2016-17 season. When he first arrived in the NHL in Chicago he always had sky-high potential, and he has reached all of it in Carolina. He is just not always the first player (or even second or third) to come to mind when people think of the Hurricanes. He probably should be.
The Blackhawks are no longer Stanley Cup contenders as currently constructed, but they can get back to that level again in the Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane era if they find more young talent to complement them. Kubalik has fit that bill so far. At 24 he is a little older than your average rookie, but he has played extremely well for the Blackhawks and been one of their bright spots.
The Avalanche have the best young core in the league and had more salary cap space than any other team to work with over the summer. (They still have more than all but two teams during the season.) Donskoi was one of their big pickups and has been a fantastic addition to their lineup thanks to his strong two-way play. He is quietly the fourth-leading scorer on the Avalanche this season.
You probably do not realize it, but Atkinson has been one of the NHL's best goal scorers over the past five years. Columbus said goodbye to several free agents over the summer but is still in the thick of the playoff race because the organization was a lot deeper than most realized. A healthy Atkinson can be a difference maker for the Blue Jackets.
The Stars were the most top-heavy playoff team in the league a year ago and needed to find some secondary scoring to complement their big three of Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov. Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry were brought in from outside the organization as free agents. Internally they have bigger roles for Roope Hintz and Gurianov. Gurianov is a fast, talented player who has flashed moments of brilliance but just needs to find a little more consistency.
Fabbri looked like he was going to be a star for the St. Louis Blues until injuries completely sidetracked his career, costing him three key seasons of his development. The Red Wings, in desperate need of young talent anywhere they can find it, picked him up for next to nothing. So far he has been a great addition with 10 goals and 23 total points in his first 33 games with the Red Wings.
The Oilers do not have a lot of bright spots on their blue line, but Klefbom has been one of them. Only two things have held him back over the years: injuries and the fact the Oilers have not surrounded him with any help on defense.
The Panthers made a bunch of huge investments this offseason, and so far Connolly has worked out the best. A former No. 6 overall pick, Connolly never became the front-line player in that spot who tends to produce but he has still carved out a nice career for himself as a middle-six player who can chip in the occasional 20-goal season.
Campbell never panned out in Dallas after the Stars made him a first-round pick, but he has found a nice spot for himself with the Kings. Jonathan Quick is still locked in as the starter due to his past performance and his contract, but Campbell has been the better goalie the past two seasons.
He is "undersized" for a defenseman, does not score a ton and plays in the shadow of more productive players like Ryan Suter and Mathew Dumba on the Minnesota blue line. All of that masks what an outstanding defensive player Spurgeon has been with the Wild. New general manager Bill Guerin's first move in Minnesota was to get Spurgeon signed to a long-term deal, and for good reason.
The Canadiens got Petry for a steal from the Edmonton Oilers six years ago when he was an undervalued defenseman on a bad team. All he has done since arriving in Montreal is become one of the steadiest defenders in the league. With more offensive firepower than he gets credit for, Petry is a legitimate top-pairing NHL defender and part of a lengthy list of players the Oilers gave up on far too soon.
The Predators have always been built around their defense, and they have consistently had superstars on their blue line. Ellis has probably always been the second or third player on the list when looking for impact. But when you put together his ability as a shutdown defender and possession driving, he is one of the most complete defensemen in the league and one who does not get much attention outside of Nashville. He has been sidelined after a hit from Corey Perry in the Winter Classic this season.
He falls under the category of underrated because he is a No. 1 overall pick who has not really put up huge numbers offensively. Combine that with the fact he just signed a huge contract extension before the season, and it is probably easy for people to look at him as a disappointment. But that is not the case. Not every top pick immediately becomes a superstar. Sometimes it takes a few years. Hischier still has that sort of upside, and even though his offensive numbers are not great, he is still performing at a high level and is an excellent two-way player.
Greiss has never been the full-time starter for the Islanders and has shared the net the past two seasons with Robin Lehner and Semyon Varlamov, but all Greiss does is produce and play at a well-above-league-average level. Since the start of the 2015-16 season (when he joined the Islanders), his .916 save percentage is 16th out of 53 goalies (minimum 100 starts) across the league, while he has topped a .920 mark in three of those five seasons. He is not just the most underrated Islander, but he also is one of the most underrated players in the league.
The Rangers' struggles and ongoing rebuild have made it easy to overlook Zibanejad's performance the past couple of years, but he is a legit top-line center in the NHL and in the middle of a great season. He and Artemi Panarin are a dynamic duo and help make the Rangers worth watching every night no matter what their record is.
Duclair has always had big-time potential but has never really been given a consistent opportunity to let it shine. When he was in Columbus a year ago, he was the focal point of a public John Tortorella rant where the coach questioned if Duclair even knew how to play the game. A couple of days later he was traded to Ottawa. All he has done with the Senators has become a top-line goal scorer with 29 goals in his first 68 games with the team.
Even if he maintains his current production, his $4.5 million salary cap hit is going to be a bargain for the Flyers. But he still has a ceiling that might be even higher than his current production. He is quickly becoming one of the Flyers' best and most important players and he is still only 22 years old. He could be a 30-goal, 70-point player for years.
McCann is still only 23 years old, was the No. 24 overall pick in his class, scored 19 goals in 78 games a year ago and is on pace to score close to 30 goals this season. He is fast, has a rocket of a shot, is good defensively and has the versatility to play center or wing. Pretty valuable player. Even with all of that, though, he has been traded two times in his career, both for underwhelming returns for the team that traded him. The Penguins, though, are benefiting from the missed evaluations in Vancouver and Florida and are getting an outstanding young player whose peak years are just now starting.
He has regressed a little bit this season, but there is also an element of some bad puck luck on a team that has been full of disappointing performances. But he is still on track for more than 20 goals and is one of the Sharks' best possession drivers. He signed a bargain one-year contract for this season and should be able to get a solid raise this summer in restricted free agency.
Perron is in his third different stop with the Blues and is playing the best hockey of his career. With Vladimir Tarasenko sidelined for most of the season, the Blues needed someone else at forward to stepup and make an impact. That player has been Perron. He leads the team in goals and total points and has already scored eight game-winners for the defending Stanley Cup Champions — a team that looks even better than a year ago when they won. Perron has been a huge, and at times, overlooked part of that success.
The Lightning just keep finding young impact players, and Cirelli is the latest. He is only 22 years old, is showing improvement across the board offensively and is already an outstanding defensive forward. In his rookie season, he finished sixth in Calder Trophy voting and 11th in Selke Trophy voting. He is even better this season.
Yes, he is underrated. Very underrated, actually. Ever since his restricted free agent contract saga and the way he struggled after reporting to the team a year ago, Nylander has been a lightning rod for criticism in Toronto with fans and media always trying to trade him. But man, this guy is a heck of a player and is in the middle of a career year that puts him on a pace for close to 40 goals. He is just now entering his peak years in the NHL and is looking like he might actually be a bargain against the salary cap. Trading him would be madness. Completely nonsensical. He is key piece of this team.
Can a team captain be under the radar? Yes, and this is one example. Horvat is one of the Canucks' core players, but he gets the least attention league-wide. Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, and Quinn Hughes are the young stars (and maybe superstars). J.T. Miller was the high-profile offseason pickup and is having an amazing year. Horvat, meanwhile, just quietly goes about his business and has been the rock for this team since becoming a regular in the lineup. He is in his prime years and going to give the Canucks at least 25 goals and 60 points a year for the foreseeable future.
It might seem weird mentioning him as the "underrated" player on this team given his 43-goal season a couple of years ago, but he might still be the under-the-radar player on this team. Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty and Marc-Andre Fleury are the big name players here, and it seems that since Karlsson has not been able to duplicate his initial success with the team. That is not exactly the case. He may never score 40 goals in a single season again, but he has still become a steady 20-goal, 50-point forward who contributes defensively. That is an extremely valuable player.
The Capitals foundation is built around superstars Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Braden Holtby and John Carlson. But it is not just about them. Vrana is quickly becoming part of that Stanley Cup-caliber core and is in the middle of a breakout season that has him on pace for more than 35 goals. It is easy for him to get overlooked in the shadow of the superstars, but he is quickly becoming a bona fide, top-line player in his own right.
Pionk was the key piece acquired by the Jets in the offseason trade that sent veteran defenseman Jacob Trouba to the New York Rangers. At the time it seemed like a loss for a Jets team that had seen almost its entire defense from the previous year find new teams. But Pionk has not only been one of the bright spots on their blue line, but he also has arguably outperformed Trouba for a fraction of the price and at a few years younger.
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