New stars are emerging in the NHL, particularly this season. Injuries have forced players that you would not expect, to ramp up their game and lead their respective teams. Prime examples of this are teams like The Tampa Bay Lightning and The Detroit Red Wings, with a numerous amount of injuries opening the door for new faces leading the way every night.
Players for the Lightning, such as Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Alex Killorn have all enjoyed terrific seasons and have helped steer the Tampa ship in the right direction, especially during Stamkos’ injury which kept him out for several months.
In Detroit a similar situation is transpiring with the massive amount of injuries the team has sustained, in particular to their superstar centers Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. The Wings have been forced, for the first time in a long period, to rely on their youth to get them back into the postseason and continue their marvellous run of consecutive playoff appearances. Names you have never heard of are starting to be household names in Detroit, such as Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan, Luke Glendening and Tomas Jurco who have wowed the Wings faithful with their blazing speed and willingness to get this team back into the postseason.
This article will look at players like those previously mentioned, who have flown under the radar all season long, yet massively contributed to their teams’ success. Enjoy this list breaking down this season’s most underrated NHL players!
10. Jason Pominville – Minnesota Wild
Quietly this season, Jason Pominville has put up some impressive numbers for his team this year, Jason currently leads the Wild team in goals with 27 and points with 53. Pominville is enjoying his time with one of the league’s hottest lines featuring captain, Zach Parise on the left, and centering his line the young Finish phenom Mikael Granlund. Pominville as well has been a mainstay on the first power play unit with Koivu and Parise. Pominville has been a huge factor as well, commanding the way with his team-leading 5 GWG this season, the forward from Quebec has been a huge part of Minnesota’s playoff aspirations this season.
9. Jaden Schwartz – St. Louis Blues
What a season this fine 21-year-old from Melfort, Saskatchewan has been having. Jaden’s play can easily be forgotten because of the embarrassment of riches his St. Louis team possesses throughout their line up. Jaden’s accomplishments this year quite frankly have flown under the radar, with an impressive 53 points, Schwartz currently sits in third for team points behind Oshie and Steen (tied with 60), and David Backes (56). Not to mention, he is third on the team with 23 goals as well. Hitchcock has frequently praised Jaden’s two-way game and his understanding for it at such a young age, his plus/minus numbers attest to this, leading the team with a plus-28 rating. Expect this player to have a breakout postseason and to be a crucial first line player for Ken Hitchcock and his team in the future.
8. Victor Hedman – Tampa Bay Lightning
Coming into this season, the Tampa Bay defensemen had to face loads of adversity, from constant concussion issues to failing to meet the expectations of his team and the fans. This year, Hedman has managed to turn everything around, the 23-year-old has finally bounced back from some tough seasons and is currently thriving under new head coach Jon Cooper. Hedman has been without a doubt one of the most improved players this season, leading the Lightning in minutes played on a nightly basis and leading the defense core with 47 points, which ranks 4th on the team. The former second overall pick is really coming into his own and currently sits in 8th in the league for points by a defenseman. Hedman has played in all situations this season and looks to be turning into that dominant d-man we all expected him to be. Hedman’s contributions have played a massive part in his team’s success this season.
7. Mats Zuccarello – New York Rangers
No player in a Rangers uniform has thrived more under Alain Vigneault’s new system, than the 5’7″ undrafted left winger from Oslo, Norway. Vigneault preaches speed down the wings, and no player has exemplified this for the Rangers this season more than the popular Zuccarello. Mats is enjoying a career year in every category, additionally, he sits tied for first in team points with 53 and second in team assists with 36. The Rangers have been impressed by his underrated two-way game. Mats is a plus-11 this season, second on the team behind Chris Kreider. The man they know as “Zucc” is currently enjoying time on the second line with Derick Brassard and newly acquired veteran, Marty St.Louis. Zuccarello also enjoys time on the second power play unit, what an underrated season it has been for the popular New York Ranger.
6. Valtteri Filppula – Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lighning’s GM Steve Yzerman knew exactly what he was getting when he signed Filps from his former team the Detroit Red Wings; a responsible two-way player that possesses tremendous skill as well. Many fans thought 5 million per season was quite expensive for a player that hadn’t really hit his mark yet, but this season, out of the shadows of Datsyuk and Zetterberg, Filppula is enjoying a career year. On a typical night, Filppula leads the Bolts in ice time, he is constantly relied on for his two-way game and his tremendous vision on the ice. Valtteri, who was never a big goal scorer in Detroit, ironically leads the Lightning in goals with 25, as well as in points with 57. Filps also plays a big part on the power play, now with St.Louis gone, as Stamkos’ set up man, a massive responsibility for any player. Filppula has exceeded the expectations of many people this season with his play and leadership role in Tampa.
5. Wayne Simmonds – Philadelphia Flyers
Despite the Flyers’ horrible start to the season, one thing that stayed constant throughout has been the play of Wayne Simmonds. The Flyers are currently the league’s hottest team and Simmonds is a very underrated part of the red-hot run the Flyers have put together. Simmonds has enjoyed great success recently, on a line with Lecavalier and Schenn. Wayne is currently having a career year in points with 55, third on the team behind the captain Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek, and is also tied with the captain, for the team lead in goals with 25. Simmonds has been praised for his play, recently leading to the Flyers being the hottest team in the league. Simmonds has particularly thrived on the power play with 13 goals, second in the league behind Alex Ovechkin. The biggest key for Wayne will be to stay consistent and lead by example in the post season for his team. What a season for the Ontario native.
4. Kyle Okposo – New York Islanders
Despite being at the bottom of the barrel of teams, the Islanders can at least take pleasure in the season their former 7th overall pick is having. Okposo has finally blossomed into the player the Islanders hoped to have selected, leading the team in goals, assists and points. The native of St. Paul, Minnesota currently sits in the top 20 in league points with 69, quite impressive for the right winger who is enjoying this great season despite the cast of players around him. Okposo has had a tremendously underrated season with not much help from his team. Look for a bright future with both him and Tavares going at the same time.
3. Steve Mason – Philadelphia Flyers
One of the most crucial factors of the run that the Flyers are currently enjoying, is the play of their goaltender Steve Mason, something the Flyers have been searching for for a long time. The key to Mason’s game this season has been consistency, something Steve and the Flyers have lacked in recent years, but now both look to be on the upswing. Mason hit 30 wins for the first time since his rookie season, in 08-09 where he collected 33 wins, leading his Blue Jackets into their first ever pos season appearance. Mason’s numbers have been terrific this season, giving the Flyers insurance with reliability between the pipes heading into the postseason. Beware of the Flyers this April!
2. Ryan Johansen – Columbus Blue Jackets
What a season for the 21-year-old in Columbus. Coming off the heels of being injured for most of the previous season, Johansen is now hitting his mark in the league as a dominant player, and certainly the future of the Blue Jackets hockey team. Ryan is currently the team’s first line center, playing with Nathan Horton and Boone Jenner. Johansen has been dominant this season, leading the team in goals with 30, which no other player on the team comes close to, and is also leading the way in points with 55, 11 more than Dubinsky and Wisniewski who are tied for second on the team. His size and strength mixed with his smart two-way game and great hands have helped Ryan become this dominant player, and quicker than expected. If the Blue Jackets can get into the postseason for the second time in franchise history, expect to hear all about this young hockey player. What a season for Ryan Johansen.
1. Gustav Nyquist – Detroit Red Wings
What a crazy season for Gustav Nyquist who, believe it or not, due to the Wings’ cap constraints began the season in Detroit’s AHL affiliate in Grand Rapids. Nyquist recorded 21 points in his first 15 games with his AHL team. This player was more than NHL ready and the Wings new this as well. The previous year Nyquist connected quite well with Grand Rapids linemate Joakim Andersson and almost played a crucial part in beating the cup champion Blackhawks in the second round before the Wings were eliminated in seven games. Finally, in the regular season injuries began to pile up and injured players were placed on the IR finally allowing the Wings to call up the young Swede. In only 46 games this season, what a difference Nyquist has made, especially with injuries to superstars Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. Gustav has managed to pick up 45 points along with 23 goals in this short span, and is currently the hottest player in the league trying to lead to Red Wings into yet another postseason appearance. Nyquist currently leads the team with 27 goals despite having played only 50 games. He has become the go to player in Detroit leading them into this improbable late season playoff push. When the Wings finally become healthy look out, the future looks extremely bright for this team with this recent infusion of youth into their lineup.