Written By: Nick Bowins, Mackenzie Fleming and Jeremy Davison
In today's fast-paced, offensive-minded NHL, so much attention is put on the superstars and the young guns drafted with the hopes of turning their franchise's fortunes around.
Sometimes lost in this transition is the fact that hockey has always been and will always be a team game. Every team needs depth contributions, and in turn, every team has very important players that many fans may not be very familiar with.
We thought it would be fun to share our opinions on some of the most underrated and under-appreciated players around the NHL, and show you the statistics to back it up!
Some of these players are well-known and others are unknowingly good. Some of these players have won league awards, some of these players are more likely to win the lottery.
Whether you watch 2 hockey games a year or 200, there's something here for everyone, and everyone can learn something!
Nick's All Underrated Team
Centre: Sean Couturier - Philadelphia Flyers
While even the average hockey fan will likely know who Couturier is, not many realize how dominant of a 200 foot player he has been over the past few seasons. Couturier has collected 158 points in 173 games since the start of the 2017-2018 season, good for 29th highest in the NHL. More impressively, he is 4th in TOI/GP over this time, averaging 21:37 per game. Being in 4th place puts him behind only Connor McDavid, Anze Kopitar, and Aleksander Barkov... pretty good company. Continuing on his defensive attributes, Couturier has been on the ice for the 5th most defensive zone draws at 1,053. Why you may ask? Due to the fact he has won 55.59% of his faceoffs in this time frame, good enough for 11th best in the NHL. Couturier has been a consistent producer with back to back 76 points years. His 2nd place finish in the Selke race 2 years ago illustrates the fact that people are aware of his defensive abilities, but it's time that hockey fans take note of his offensive prowess as well!
Left Wing: Teuvo Teravainen - Carolina Hurricanes
I get it. Not many people watch Carolina games. Maybe we should though. The Hurricanes currently boast one of the best possession lines in hockey, with Teravainen on the left side, Sebastion Aho up the middle, and Nino Neiderreiter on the right side. Teravainen has 150 points in 176 games since the beginning of the 2017-2018 season, putting him 41st in the NHL over this time span. On top of this, he currently sits 10th in the league (of players who've played over 100 games) over this time span in SAT% at 55.88%, also putting him 2nd amongst left wingers, behind only Matthew Tkachuk. While 55.88% may not sound too high in the grand scheme, it is a very strong number. Think about how getting stuck in your own zone for 1 shift can end up with 3 or 4 shots against, meaning 100% of the shot attempts that shift were against you, and you're behind the statistical edge all game. Teravainen is a small yet speedy and skilled forward who has season his point totals increase every year of his career, including his career high of 76 last year. Moving forward, as one of the best possession forwards in the league, on a dominant line, there's no reason Teravainen won't become a perennial star in the NHL.
Right Wing: Kevin LaBanc - San Jose Sharks
Arguably the best value contract in the NHL (even including entry level deals) is Kevin LaBanc's 1 year $1 million deal he signed this past offseason. Fresh off a 56 point year in San Jose, the former 6th round draft pick is now in his 4th NHL season, in which he has seen his point totals consistently rise every year, on route to becoming one of the better possession wingers in the league. LaBanc has the 5th highest SAT% amongst right wingers since the start of the 2017-2018 season at 54.83%. also making him the 29th player overall. While he ranks just 120th in total points since the start of 2017-2018, he has seen steady increases in usage each season and now gets a chance on the Sharks top powerplay unit. LaBanc is a sneaky good player in this league, a smart free-agent pick up in fantasy hockey, and absolutely cracks my all-underrated team.
Left Defence: Shea Theodore - Vegas Golden Knights
Being traded to an expansion team in order for your former team to be able to protect other players would more than likely put a bit of a chip on your shoulder, and it certainly has for Shea Theodore. Since first suiting up for the Golden Knights in 2017-2018, Theodore has been a steady two-way presence on their blue line, racking up 72 points in 155 games played, good for 46th most amongst defenceman. More impressively, from a possession metrics standpoint, Theodore has the 12th highest SAT% of any defenceman to play over 100 games, at 54.34%. Currently playing on the 2nd pairing with Deryk Engellend likely hurts his possession numbers in terms of controlled breakouts and transition ratings, but also lets him hop up in the rush more. Theodore may not be a rockstar in fantasy hockey for you, nor is he likely to win a Norris anytime soon, but he is the epitome of the new age NHL defenceman, and is very underrated puck-mover around the league.
Right Defence: Jeff Petry - Montreal Canadiens
Surprisingly, the big right-hander from the Habs is the 19th highest scoring defenceman in the NHL since the beginning of the 2017-2018 campaign. Sneakily, one of the best defenceman in the NHL, despite being a name you never hear discussed. Petry eats tough minutes for dinner, averaging the 29th highest TOI/GP of any player over this time period at 23:21 a night. On top of this, Petry is 17th amongst all defenceman who've played over 100 games with an SAT% of 54.14%. Lastly, defenceman always have slightly lower shooting percentages than forwards due to the fact majority of their shots come from low-percentage areas and are intended for deflections and tips, yet Petry ranks 9th amongst defenceman with a 6.9 shooting percentage. Overall, one of the quietest two-way d-men in the game, who makes smart plays and uses his feet to create opportunities in both ends.
Goalie: Jacob Markstrom - Vancouver Canucks
Markstrom may not be the flashiest of names, nor may he lead the league in any stat categories, but he has cemented himself as a top 10 goaltender in this league with consistent play and stellar saves. Since the beginning of 2017-2018, Markstrom has collected 56 wins, which puts him only 1 behind Carey Price and Ben Bishop in similar games played, despite Vancouver having some very weak teams recently. Over this time he sits 7th in total saves with 3,575, ahead of names like Carey Price, Marc-Andre Fleury, Braden Holtby, and Pekka Rinne. He also ranks 6th in even strength saves, which sounds redundant, but is important especially when considering powerplay percentages, amassing 3,012 saves. He ranks 14th in save percentage of goalies with 100+ games played in, with a .912 and 12th in goals against average at 2.72. Is he going to win the Vezina? Probably not. However, he doesn't receive the credit he should, and as I stated earlier, is a top 10 goalie in my humble opinion.
Mack's All Underrated Team
Centre: Jonathan Huberdeau - Florida Panthers
Huberdeau sits on the top line in Florida, but like Barkov, is a hidden talent in Florida. Since the beginning of the 2017-18 season, Huberdeau sits in 20th overall in scoring with 179 points. However he sits even higher in even strength points (15th overall) with 120 even strength points. This is fairly impressive considering he is not only over-shadowed by the rest of the league’s media, but when people do talk about Florida these days… they talk about Barkov and Bobrovsky. Another impressive stat in Huberdeau’s favour is his zone start percentage. His coaches trust him to play both ends of the ice, and it shows by his 47.58% zone start. Meaning he starts less than half of his 5-on-5 shifts in the defensive end. He is one of only three players in the top 20 scoring over the past two season who has less than a 50% zone start percentage… Giroux (48.59%) and Barkov (42.49%) are the only others. To be able to put up top 20 point totals and start that many shifts in his own end is definitely a stat in his favour.
Left Winger: Matthew Tkachuk - Calgary Flames
Tkachuk a different pick for this list because he is not necessarily “underrated”, however he is statistically underrated and here is why. Tkachuk has the 3rd best Corsi % in the NHL since the beginning of the 2017-18 season. He is behind just Dougie Hamilton and Patrice Bergeron in this category. He has also managed to sit top 50 in scoring (141 points) and 25th in Power-play goals over that same time period. Since the beginning of last season, he has actually been able to improve his point output and has been the 30th best point producer in the NHL since the start of last season with 92 points. Tkachuk will look to improve on these stats as his career stretches onwards. His play away from the puck is already known by most of the league, but his offensive prowess will continue to grow as it did in London (OHL).
Right Winger: Brendan Gallagher - Montreal Canadiens
Gallagher, like Tkachuk, is already a well-known player because he likes to play the ‘pest’ role. Gallagher is also known for his timely goals and his hard-nose play. However, there are allot of deeper numbers that may surprise a lot of hockey fans. He ranks 5th in Corsi% since the beginning of the 2017-18 season at 56.9corsi%. He also ranks 2nd in expected goals in that same time period. Expected goals are calculated by difficulty of shot for the goalie and quality of chances a player generates while 5-on-5. This stat simply represents how many quality chances a player generates multiplied by their expected shooting percentage with those shots. Gallagher is second in the NHL over that time period, behind ONLY ALEX OVECHKIN. Here are the top five in order: Ovechkin (51.4), Gallagher (48.9), McDavid (47.1), Matthews (42.5) and Crosby (41).
Defenceman: Ryan Ellis - Nashville Predators
Ryan Ellis is certainly one of the more ‘over-shadowed’ players in the NHL. His whole career has been spent playing behind the likes of Shea Weber, P.K. Subban, Ryan Suter, Roman Josi and Mattias Ekholm. However, he was always supposed to be a successful defenceman, even as an undersized blue-liner. He has won 2 memorial cups and attended three world juniors where he captured one gold and two silvers. His last season in Windsor he led the team as the captain and leading scorer with 100 points in 58 games played… AS A D-MAN. He has carried his offensive presence into the NHL over his career. Since the beginning of the 2017-18 season he sits in 4th place in even-strength points per 60 mins by a defenceman at 1.60. He trails just Carlson (WSH), Burns and Rielly in this category. I believe that is Ellis were given a better offensive opportunity with another team as a top pairing player, he could put up more than point per game. As proof of this, he has been given a top pairing role with Roman Josi this season and has produced 14 points in 14 games thus far.
Defenceman: Dougie Hamilton - Carolina Hurricanes
Hamilton is often referred to as being a locker room issue because of what was said by the broadcast booth in Calgary. However, since being in Carolina he has been explosive on both sides of the puck and his fit into their locker room quite nicely. Since the beginning of the 2017-18 season, Hamilton leads the NHL with 41 goals. He also LEADS the entire NHL with a 57.5corsi% over that same time period. He has also delivered 258 hits and has added 190 blocked shots across those seasons. Hamilton will look to lead the Canes’ backend into another playoff position this season, as they work their way through a tight Metropolitan Division before an important ‘expansion’ summer. He is third in team scoring since the start of last year and is already has a +9 rating so far this season.
Goaltender: Darcy Kuemper - Arizona Coyotes
Kuemper is probably the most underrated player on this entire list… He came in last year as the expected backup to Antti Raanta but took over as the starter when Raanta went down with a series of injuries throughout the season. He took full advantage of his opportunity and ranked in the top three in GAA and SV% among goalies with more than 50 starts last year. Since the start of last season, he is ranked in the top three of almost all of the major or at least the notable statistics other than wins. Goals Save Above Average (GSAA) is the goals this goalie has prevented given his save percentage and his shots faced versus the league average save percentage on the same number of shots. (Per Hockey Reference). Since the beginning of last season, Kuemper ranks 3rd in this category behind only Ben Bishop and Robin Lehner (Two Vezina Candidates Last Season). Bishop (36.64 GSAA), Lehner (34.68 GSAA) and Kuemper (33.66 GSAA) are the only three goalies with over 30 in this stat category. Quality Starts in terms of a hockey goalie are starts with a Saves Percentage higher than their average for the year or at least 88.5% on nights with 20 shots or fewer. This means Quality Start Percentage is the number of Quality Starts Divided by Total Starts. (Both per Hockey Reference) Kuemper LEADS all goalies in this category since the beginning of last season, earning a quality start in 68.75% of his total starts. (44QS for 64GS) Kuemper also ranks 2nd in both GAA (1.67) and SV% (.942) this season behind only Tuukka Rask. Although Raanta has also been fairly good this season, it’s hard to take Kuemper’s starting role away from at this point, especially after proving he can play a starting number of games with 55 last season. If he maintains the starting role in Arizona this season and can continue on his strong start, he will most definitely be within the top three for Vezina voting.
Jeremy's All Underrated Team
Centre: Leon Draisaitl - Edmonton Oilers
Draisaitl may not be the first name that screams ‘underrated’. However, if you look deeper into the numbers, you’ll see he may be underappreciated by a lot of doubters. Doubters that see him riding the metaphorical coat tails of line mate, Connor McDavid. His shooting percentage alone since the beginning of the 2017-18 season has him sitting in first place at 18.4%. Now, some would speculate that to drop off at some point because even the most prolific goal scorer of all-time, Alex Ovechkin, only has a shooting percentage of 14.4% over that same time period. However, he is ranked 84th in High Danger Scoring Chances For meaning he capitalizes on a very high number of his scoring chances. Since the beginning of the 2017-18 season, he is 4th in goals behind Ovechkin, McDavid and MacKinnon, 6th in points and 10th in points per game. He is becoming more and more well-known around the league and is even being considered an early favourite for the heart trophy… pretty incredible praise since he plays on a line with the best player in the world.
Left Winger: David Perron - St Louis Blues
David Perron was vital in the Blues’ cup run last season with seven goals and nine assists and is becoming a bigger threat this season with 15 points in 15 games thus far. Since the beginning of the 2017-18 season, Perron has averaged 0.89 points per game. This stat has him ranked 4th out of all Left Wingers behind Taylor Hall, Johnny Gaudreau and Alex Ovechkin. Like Draisaitl, Perron’s shooting percentage over that time period is weirdly high at 16.8% meaning he could have a decline at some point. Perron’s career made a big return after being selected in the expansion draft by the Golden Knights. He came out and scored 66 points in 70 games that season, looking to prove that he had plenty left in his tank. He has since put up 126 points in 142 games and is looking to improve on these numbers with a St.Louis suffering a big blow with Tarasenko out for 5 months.
Right Winger: Blake Wheeler - Winnipeg Jets
Blake Wheeler is one of the NHL’s best playmakers. He may not be underrated, but like Draisaitl is fairly underappreciated. Wheeler has a lot of options up front and on the power play but is known to make his teammates better. He has the 13th most points since the start of the 2017-18 season with 190, while sitting in 3rd spot for assists with 142. Wheeler, like the Jets, has gotten off to a bit of a slow start after putting up back-to-back 91 point campaigns. Over that same time period, Wheeler sits 5th in power play points at 73 and 10th in shorthanded points. Wheeler looks to lead his Jets back into the offensive spotlight beside the likes of Kyle Conner, Patrick Laine and Mark Scheifele.
Left Defenceman - Torey Krug, Boston Bruins
Torey Krug has been an offensive force throughout his career, scoring more than 40 points in all but one of his six full campaign thus far, while adding three campaigns with more than 50 points. He ranks 8th in defencemen scoring since the start of the 2017-18 season, while his 0.8 points per game put him in 4th behind only Brent Burns, John Carlson and Erik Karlsson. Krug also ranks 2nd in defence power play points over that same time span with 63. Among defencemen, Krug ranks 13th with a 54.17 SAT%, providing plenty of support on the defensive side of the puck as well. Cassidy seems to love to have Krug out there to start out in the offensive end, as he leads all d-men in 5-on-5 zone start percentage at 65.47%.
Right Defenceman: Shea Weber - Montreal Canadians
Shea Weber went from being one of the best and most trusted blue liner in the NHL in Nashville to being called the ‘negative’ end of the one off trade to Montreal for P.K. Subban. Weber missed much of that first season with the Habs, but has since comeback and seems to be back in his dominant form. He has a very likeable 53.55 SAT% despite starting more than half of his shifts in the defensive end of the ice, as shown by his 44.44% zone start percentage. He has been limited to just 98 games in the past two seasons due a couple of injuries but has put up 58 points, good for .59 points per game. He still has a wicked shot, as seen by his 8.1% shooting percentage which has him ranked 7th among defenders. He also ranks 16th in hits per game among blue-liners with 2.32 hits per game. He still has one of the most feared shots in the game and still has a lot to give to a young Habs team going forward. His 52-point pace this season proves he can still provide at both ends of the rink and he will continue to add to that moving forward.
Goaltender: John Gibson - Anaheim Ducks
John Gibson is by far the most underappreciated player in the NHL. He has faced the 3rd most shots in the league the past two seasons (with 3780 saves) while maintaining a .922SV% and 2.62 GAA with a mostly depleted Ducks d-core. It’s a true surprise that he hasn’t gotten any nods for the Vezina Trophy throughout his career but if he keeps up this play, it will be hard for him not to at least be in the top three, annually. Goals Save Above Average (GSAA) is the goals this goalie has prevented given his save percentage and his shots faced versus the league average save percentage on the same number of shots. (Per Hockey Reference) John Gibson LEADS all NHL goalies in this stat category since the start of the 2017-18 season with a total of 44.87. Goalie Point Shares (GPS) is an estimate of the number of points contributed by a player due to his play in goal. Over the past three seasons, three have stood out from the rest. Hellebuyck (28.9) F.Anderson (27.9) and GIBSON (27.8)… the next is Vasilevskiy (26). These three goalies have played a huge percentage of their team’s games, so there is a little bit of correlation due to playing time. However, in Gibson’s case, he has been their workhouse goalie not only in games played but also just a lot of work on the ice because of how weak their team has been the past couple of seasons. The only negative mark that comes from him playing so good, is they stay farther away from gaining the lottery pick each season. Gibson has been an extraordinary backstop for the Ducks and he looks to be having another incredible season again this year.