The Stanley Cup playoffs are a prime time for detecting overrated NHL players. This is generally when the game has a greater presence of casual followers who are too quick to judge based on name recognition or a small sample of performances.
These are times when players emerge as overrated by sheer virtue of being allied with underrated teammates.
There are those who garner excess credit for their point production when they have reliable scoring partners who either instinctively step up in big games or flaunt their overwhelming breadth of playoff experience.
Or younger, unripe players who appear to develop ahead of schedule but are actually benefiting as expected from veteran teammates and gaining a little extra from an underachieving opponent.
Or scorers who get too much credit for just being a household name and, even if they pass as frostbitten, still need to start finding ways around even the stingiest defenses before they can join elite company.
Some of the following 10 NHLers will have a chance to validate their rating a little more as their respective teams embark on the second round. Others may carry on as usual, but their viewers ought to take a more diligent look at those playing with them so as to ration the credit more reasonably.
This is, after all, the quintessential team sport.
With the exception of some would-be elites who have yet to translate their regular-season success, these players warrant a decent share of credit, but not at the expense of their teammates.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via nhl.com and are through games of Monday, May 13
It is very hard to overrate any representative of the Ottawa Senators, who defied a rash of key injuries just to reach the postseason and rode a wave of heart to a five-game conference quarterfinal victory.
With that said, the subjects of one of this season’s most inspiring sagas reaped some of their rewards in the first round of the playoffs with the help of a self-destructing Montreal team.
No members of the Senators may have gained from the meltdowns of the Canadiens more than the offensive troika that temporarily constituted the “Kid Line.”
Cory Conacher was eventually plucked off the Jakob Silfverberg-Mika Zibanejad line in favor of Guillaume Latendresse for Games 1 and 2. The two Swedish rookies later paired with Milan Michalek for Game 3.
Come what may, the three rookies were heavily aided by seasoning and special teams in combining for a combined middle-of-the-pack 6-4-10 scoring log against the Habs.
Just for one key example, in Game 3, Silfverberg was on the ice for a power-play goal and scored another with Zibanejad on the ice, while Conacher was on the ice for another. That Silfverberg strike came four seconds after the Senators garnered a power play with the help of a Ryan White slashing infraction.
Four seconds prior to that incident, Jean-Gabriel Pageau had scored his second unanswered goal to grant Ottawa a 3-1 advantage. That sequence of events underscores a self-imposed meltdown on Montreal’s part and thus a smoother path for the less battle-tested.
Detroit Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock did not directly call out Valtteri Filppula on his shortcomings when he addressed the press after his team vanquished Anaheim in Game 7.
But his remarks did serve to underscore Filppula’s dependence on playing with certified playoff performer Henrik Zetterberg, who ordinarily works with fellow world-class striker Pavel Datsyuk.
As relayed by Ansar Kahn of M-Live, Babcock told reporters, “Fil got 66 points (a career high) playing on the wing with Z last year. And yet I like playing Pav and Z together, and if we have enough depth we can do that. But, that hasn’t been the case for us, we’ve had to go a different way.”
Naturally, the fact that Filppula got the job done in the deciding game with a hand in two of three Detroit goals, including the winning strike off his stick, matters the most.
Nonetheless, as the likes of Kahn have written, that perk-up only happened after he was reunited with Zetterberg.
In turn, the 29-year-old, seven-season NHL veteran proved he has not quite outgrown his training blades yet. Until he produces at a pace like that of 2011-12, that 66-point campaign and his 16-point playoff in 2009 will remain aberrations on his resume.
Count this author among those guilty of overestimating Rick Nash before the start of his first playoff run with the New York Rangers.
When he transferred from Columbus to Manhattan over the summer, Nash had a perfect example to emulate in Ilya Kovalchuk.
Like Nash, Kovalchuk was (and still is) an explosive producer who had played merely four postseason contests with his first team before going from Atlanta to New Jersey. As it happened, skill and will trumped inexperience as Kovalchuk logged six points in five games for the Devils in the spring of 2010 and later an 8-11-19 transcript in 2012.
Nash was supposed to fill the one gap on offense that had tripped up the top-dog Blueshirts in 2012. Instead, another ex-Blue Jacket in Derick Brassard has done that more than anybody else.
Brassard came over on April 3 along with Derek Dorsett and John Moore. Brassard merely led the Rangers in the first round with seven helpers and nine points while Dorsett and Moore combined to match Nash’s output of two points.
Nash made his impact entirely in the form of assists while whiffing on each of a team-leading 22 shots on goal.
Granted, he did chip in his fair share of grunt work against the Capitals, as was documented in particular by the Washington media. But a player of Nash’s skill set ought to be able to translate learning experiences to tangible success over a set of seven games against a single adversary.
The Hockey News issued a fair warning against banking too much on Bryan Bickell, the bulkiest of the Blackhawks at 233 pounds.
The “flaws” section of Bickell’s THN scouting report reads that he “Lacks consistency. May never meet offensive expectations because of average skating ability. Must always use his 6-4 frame to his advantage in order to be an effective winger, but he forgets that sometimes.”
At first glance, Bickell seemed to defy those drawbacks by scoring three goals and placing second on Chicago’s leaderboard with 13 hits.
But did the Minnesota Wild really pose the most reliable test?
Bickell was important to the swift, five-game finish, but the first forward who should be singled out for suppressing the Wild is Jonathan Toews. The captain graciously deferred offensive gratification to a host of fellow Chicago strikers and stifled the top Minnesota troika of Charlie Coyle, Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise.
At least the aforementioned Nash used his gifts to provide some intangible gains for the Rangers in the first round. That was not the case for Tyler Seguin in his series with the Boston Bruins against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Although Boston emerged victorious in an intense seven-game bout, the inescapable Seguin-Phil Kessel storyline emphatically went in favor of the Bruin-turned-Leaf whose 2009 trade allowed the B's to draft Seguin in 2010.
Kessel sprinkled a steady six points, including four goals, over the seven contests. Seguin finished with a single point (an assist) and a minus-one rating.
That flat showing is a continuation of underachievement, both in the year 2013 and the postseason.
Seguin’s production pace dipped from 67 points in 81 games last season to 32 in 48 this regular season. The former No. 2 overall pick’s playoff transcript consists of a 5-6-11 log in 27 outings, with three of those goals and six of those points in his first two.
Translation: Seguin has logged two goals and five points over the last 25 playoff games.
One would think the renewal of a previously one-sided rivalry with Kessel would have been the key to a timely turnaround. Instead, the only thing that turned was that one-sidedness, which twisted a full 180 in Kessel’s favor.
It is one thing to conveniently ignore a player’s underachievement based on reputation, as is the case with Nash and Seguin. It is another to go overboard on credit for a superficially impressive output in any stat column and give that credit to a single player.
To an extent, it is understandable that the image of Matt Cooke will come to mind whenever the words “Pittsburgh,” “Penguins” and “physicality” are spoken in the same breath.
Cooke does deserve a fair share of attention for dishing up a team-high 25 hits in a tougher-than-expected six-game triumph over the New York Islanders. However, one ought to make sure enough recognition is saved for the other gritty Pittsburgh forwards.
Pittsburgh outsiders need to be aware that, for all of the polarizing attention he draws, Cooke is not a one-man show in the physicality department. The Penguins also pick up substantial sandpaper from their vast stable of scorers.
Pascal Dupuis did not just strike the Islanders net five times. He also bumped 18 players wearing Islander attire. Brenden Morrow landed 20 checks, Chris Kunitz 14 and Jarome Iginla nine.
Logan Couture led the Sharks with eight points in the first round, but six of those were on the power play. It was roughly the same story in the regular season, when nearly two-thirds of his output (12 out of 37 points) came with the aid of the man advantage.
In a four-game sweep of the Vancouver Canucks, Couture mustered a team-best 27.3 percent shooting percentage. However, upon deleting his three power-play strikes and looking strictly at his even-strength accuracy, he pulled a Blutarsky under that heading.
At this point in his career, the 24-year-old would likely be lost without the stable of seasoned teammates he has at his disposal.
During the series, the four-year veteran Couture shared a hand in five scoring plays with seven-year NHL veteran Joe Pavelski.
The 33-year-old, 16-year veteran Joe Thornton was in on three of the same goals as Couture. Patrick Marleau, who followed Thornton as the second overall pick in the 1997 draft, shared a hand in two strikes with Couture.
Couture does deserve credit for assimilating himself with those battle-tested vets and cultivating as much success as he has. But his four-point outburst in Game 3 and two-point efforts in Games 1 and 4 are not indicative of who carried the Sharks to that sweep.
Linemate David Krejci, who has amplified his otherworldly postseason track record, deserves more than a small sliver of the credit for Milan Lucic’s output in these playoffs.
Out of the nine points Lucic cultivated for the Bruins against Toronto, seven came by way of collaboration with Krejci, who by contrast picked up six points independent of Lucic.
Krejci exits the first round as the NHL’s production leader with 13 points in seven games, a smooth follow-up on his leading log of 12-11-23 in 25 playoff tilts two years ago. The Boston center has now amassed 25 goals and 60 points in 66 career postseason outings.
His hulking winger, Lucic, has just as much NHL experience but not nearly the same consistency or finishing aptitude in springtime. He may have flaunted some flair earlier in his career, when he played a little less each night, but the fact remains that Lucic is not a top-six-caliber forward.
For the better part of the Toronto series, his physical gifts did not do much good beyond 32 hits. Of all players entering the second round, Lucic has the worst giveaway-takeaway differential at 10-1.
Even with the lone goal in a 2-1 Game 6 loss and a late strike in Game 7 that also cut a two-goal deficit in half, he still leaves observers hanging as to which player is the real Lucic. So far this spring, he comes off as too erratic and prone to disappearance.