There are many forwards in the NHL that go unnoticed. However, there are a select few NHL forwards that deserve a lot more attention than they are currently receiving. Most of these underrated players are also on pace for career years, which is a great accomplishment both for themselves personally and for their respective NHL teams.
These quiet and consistent goal scorers may surprise some people, clearly defining the meaning of underrated.
Twenty-seven-year-old captain David Backes has been having a consistent season for the surprising St. Louis Blues. The Blues are currently sitting on the 4th spot in the Western Conference, posting a 29-12-6 record thus far. Despite a 6-7-0 record to start off the season under former head coach Davis Payne, the Blues brought in future Hall of Famer head coach Ken Hitchcock on November 6th, 2011.
Under Hitchcock the team has posted a 23-5-6 record.
The new head coach has helped David Backes' game as the forward has posted 16 goals and 21 assists for a total of 37 points in 47 games so far this season. Backes is currently on pace for a career high of 63 points this season. However, that ending point total could increase, as he currently has five points in his past two games.
Hopefully the forward can keep up his recent streak. Backes' 6'3", 225-pound frame also allows him to play on the edge as he has already recorded 141 hits this season.
Well known for his clown-like hair, 29-year-old Scott Hartnell has been having an exceptional season for the Philadelphia Flyers, who are currently placed fourth in the Eastern Conference with a 28-14-5 record.
Hartnell, second in team scoring, has quietly produced along with star forwards Danny Brierre, Claude Giroux and Jaromir Jagr. The power forward has suited up for 47 games so far this season, recording 25 goals and 19 assists for a total of 44 points.
He is currently on pace to finish the 2011-12 campaign with a total of 76 points, which crushes his career high of 60 points set during the 2008-09 season.
Scott Hartnell is commonly known to get under the skin of his opponents and can also score goals, which brings a major plus to the Philadelphia Flyers; this combination has been of high value for the franchise. Hartnell brings a physical element to the table, recording 100 hits so far this season.
Twenty-six-year-old Swedish winger Loui Eriksson is one of the most consistent snipers in the NHL but often goes unnoticed. Recording between 60-75 points per season since the 2008-09 campaign, Eriksson is on pace to reach the plateau again in 2012.
So far, the sniper has recorded 17 goals and 26 helpers for a total of 43 points in 47 games. Eriksson is currently on a hot streak, recording 12 points in the past 10 games. If his streak continues, the forward could record approximately 80 points this season.
With the Dallas Stars (24-21-2) currently sitting in 11th place in the Western Conference, they are four points out of a playoff position. Look for Loui Eriksson to take his play to a higher level for the second half of the season to help the Stars make a push for the playoffs.
The 28-year-old New York Islanders winger Matt Moulson is currently having a career year, posting 22 goals and 21 assists for a total of 43 points in 46 games.
Moulson is on pace to reach a career-high 76 points, a lot higher than his current career high of 53 points set just last season. The winger is on a hot streak, posting 10 points in the past seven games.
That can explain why the recently surging Islanders (19-21-6) are on a three-game winning streak. If the hot streak continues, Moulson may even be able to reach the 80-point plateau if things keep going well for him and his team.
However, expect the New York Islanders to be sellers at this year's trade deadline as they are currently 24th in the NHL this season. Despite missing out on the playoffs for four straight seasons, the New York Islanders have lots of hope for their future due to the rising play of Matt Moulson.
James Neal, acquired from the Dallas Stars before last year's trade deadline, is a 24-year-old winger having a breakout year with the Pittsburgh Penguins this season. When thinking of the Pittsburgh Penguins, franchise faces such as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin come to mind.
However, James Neal is quietly emerging himself as a new face for the franchise.
Second on the team in scoring only behind Evgeni Malkin, Neal has posted 26 goals along with 20 helpers for a total of 46 points in 48 games this season. On pace to record 78 points by season's end, the winger is currently hot, recording six points in three games.
With the concussed Crosby out indefinitely, expect James Neal to keep putting up consistent numbers and help the Pittsburgh Penguins stay in playoff contention. The Pens are currently sitting on sixth position in the Eastern Conference—seven points ahead of the ninth place Toronto Maple Leafs. Expect the Pens to keep getting better thanks to the elevated play of James Neal.
David Backes, Scott Hartnell, Loui Eriksson, Matt Moulson and James Neal are the NHL's most underrated forwards for one similar reason: They play the game hard every time they are on the ice, and their results this season prove that.