NHL 2013 Season: The 10 Most Underrated Players So Far
One month into the 2012-2013 NHL season, the biggest names in hockey have already begun to take over the headlines.
Thomas Vanek and James Neal lead the league in scoring. Sidney Crosby and Martin St. Louis rank first in assists. Craig Anderson, Corey Crawford and Pekka Rinne maintain the best save percentages.
But what about the little guys? 711 players have appeared in at least one game so far this year, yet the average fan could name no more than a quarter of them.
Dan Ellis has a better save percentage than Antti Niemi, Carey Price and Henrik Lundqvist.
David Clarkson has more goals than Patrick Kane, Pavel Datsyuk and Alexander Ovechkin.
Alexander Steen has more shots than Rick Nash, Evgeni Malkin and Ilya Kovalchuk.
How about those little guys?
We break down 10 of the most underrated, unheralded NHL players after the first month of the season on the coming slides.
Note: Players listed in alphabetical order, not ranking.
Alexander Steen, St. Louis Blues
2013 Stat Line: 17 GP, 4G, 11A
The leading scorer of the St. Louis Blues, 28-year-old Alexander Steen has rebounded from some rough recent years to post the best start to a season of his career.
Steen missed almost half of last year with concussion issues, but did score 28 points and a plus-24 rating in 43 games. This year, he's hoping to continue that production throughout the entire campaign—and, with 15 points in 17 games this winter, that looks like an increasingly realistic possibility.
On a persistently under-appreciated Blues team, Steen epitomizes the unheralded nature of St. Louis' hockey team.
Cody Hodgson, Buffalo Sabres
2013 Stat Line: 18 GP, 7G, 8A
Alongside NHL superstars and North America-wide household names Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville, it's no wonder that little media attention drifts down to 23-year-old Cody Hodgson.
But the young winger, beginning just his second full NHL season, is putting up points like a Crosby or Ovechkin nonetheless. Hodgson has 15 points in 18 games, already equal to Pominville's totals despite playing on a Buffalo team with just six wins to date.
The former 10th overall pick has an unbelievably high ceiling and an already impressive resume for the amount of attention he receives.
Colin Wilson, Nashville Predators
2013 Stat Line: 17 GP, 5G, 9A
With 14 points (including five goals) on only 21 shots to date, Colin Wilson perfectly exemplifies the conundrum that is the 2013 Nashville Predators.
The Preds rank last the league by a tremendous margin in shots-per-game, but fall fifth in the 15-team Western Conference with 21 points in 17 games.
How do they do it?
Through players like Wilson, the oft-ignored seventh overall pick of the 2008 draft. Wilson hasn't blossomed into the game-breaker some expected, but he's become a solid, if totally unheralded, asset for perhaps the NHL's most perennially underrated team.
Dan Ellis, Carolina Hurricanes
2013 Stat Line: 3-1-0, .943 save percentage, 1.74 GAA
Playing for his fourth franchise since 2009, one might expect 32-year-old journeyman goaltender Dan Ellis to be a quickly passing player in Carolina.
If he keeps playing like this, however, he might never leave Raleigh.
Ellis has three wins in four teams, and except for one poor performance in Philadelphia, he's allowed just three goals on 109 shots against—a .972 save percentage.
While Cam Ward struggles through some early-season inconsistency, Ellis continues to prove the critics wrong.
David Clarkson, New Jersey Devils
2013 Stat Line: 17 GP, 10G, 6A
With 30 goals and eight game-winners for last season's Eastern Conference champions, one should have expected David Clarkson to get more than his fair share of media attention.
He most certainly didn't.
With 16 points in 17 games this year and one of the league's mere seven double-digit goal totals, one should expect that David Clarkson is getting plenty of glory from his hot start.
After establishing himself as a bottom-six grinder for years, Clarkson's new-found scoring touch has helped the Devils make up for the loss of Zach Parise.
If only he'd get credit for it.
Mike Ribeiro, Washington Capitals
2013 Stat Line: 16 GP, 6G, 13A
The Washington Capitals haven't had the 2013 they were hoping for. Niklas Backstrom has only one goal, Alexander Ovechkin is a minus-eight and goaltender Michal Neuvirth is 1-4-1 with an .889 save percentage.
But 33-year-old veteran forward Mike Ribeiro, acquired from the Dallas Stars at the 2012 NHL draft, has nothing but a shining bright spot in his first 16 games in the nation's capital.
Ribeiro's consistency has always been under-appreciated—he's had at least 16 goals in every season since 2002-03—but his contributions this winter have been particularly unheralded. With 19 points in 16 games, Ribeiro leads the Caps in scoring by a mile and has done everything he can to keep Washington's offense at least afloat.
Nicklas Grossman, Philadelphia Flyers
2013 Stat Line: 18 GP, 47 blocked shots, 42 hits
Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Nicklas Grossman picked up his first goal of the season in crazy fashion Wednesday night, but it's not goal scoring that has set Grossman apart as an especially underrated player in this young NHL season.
Grossman ranks first in the league with 47 blocked shots, and is the only player of the league's top eight shot-blockers to have more than 26 hits, as well—he has 42.
The 28-year-old blueliner, acquired in a smart trade mid-way through last year, is proving to be a very underrated defensive asset for the ailing Flyers this season.
PA Parenteau, Colorado Avalanche
2013 Stat Line: 15 GP, 7G, 6A
Almost 12 years ago, PA Parenteau was drafted by the Anaheim Ducks with the 264th pick in the ninth round.
It took him until 2010-11 to jump into the NHL scene, but his 20 scores that year for the Islanders secured Parenteau an NHL job for a while to come.
The 29-year-old then scored 18 last year for the Isles but transferred to Colorado during the offseason. He's been productive through his first month in the Mile High City, ranking second on the Avalanche with seven goals and 13 points through 15 games.
Despite going on three consecutive seasons with solid performances, Parenteau remains an underrated top-six forward around the National Hockey League.
Ron Hainsey, Winnipeg Jets
2013 Stat Line: 16GP, 4A, 45 blocked shots
Ron Hainsey's ongoing goalless streak might stretch 82 games back to March 2011, but the 31-year-old defenseman's impact on the defensive end has been priceless this season.
Hainsey is tied with four other players for third in the league lead in blocked shots—he has 45. Through 16 games, he's also taken just two penalties and even chipped in on the scoring end with four helpers.
He's played over 20 minutes in all but one of Winnipeg's games to date, including five appearances with more than 25 minutes and a season high of 29:32 on Feb. 9 at Ottawa.
2013 Stat Line: 15 GP, 8P, plus-13 rating
When Sheldon Souray spent all of the 2010-11 season in the AHL, many assumed the once-great defenseman's NHL career had come to a disappointing end.
But it hadn't.
After a rebound campaign last season in Dallas, Souray, 36, has been lights-out for the 12-2-1 Ducks. He's tallied four goals, four assists and 23 blocked shots in 15 appearances for Anaheim, in addition to ranking second in the league with a plus-13 rating.
Surprisingly, few have picked up on Souray's remarkable career turnaround. If the Ducks continue to win games at this pace, though, he'll eventually start getting the attention he deserves.