The Most Underrated Players in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Allan Mitchell@@Lowetide_Featured ColumnistApril 16, 2014

The Most Underrated Players in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs

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    NHL teams are ready for the postseason, and have set up their rosters for maximum output. Anyone can identify the league's best players—they are the top scorers, or playing major roles defensively—but there's another important group for successful teams.

    Every playoff team has quality role players—perhaps underpaid and certainly underrated—who give their teams balance and depth in all areas.

    Here are the most underrated players for the 2014 playoffs.

10. Tommy Wingels, RW, San Jose Sharks

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    Ross D. Franklin

    What Is His Role? Tommy Wingels is a complementary winger for the San Jose Sharks' skill lines. He plays against tougher competition and with their impact forwards.

    Why Is He Effective? Wingels is a throwback player who can play effectively up and down the lineup. He scored 30 even-strength points this season and could spend much of the playoffs outside the top-six forward alignment. His ability to put the team before himself gives him great value.

    Why Is He Underrated? A team player by definition isn't going to seek the spotlight. Wingels was a fine defensive forward in college, and has adapted his game in pro to fit a specific role. That's what team players do.

9. Dwight King, LW, Los Angeles Kings

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    What Is His Role? Dwight King is being asked to play with high-end skill players this season, and to hold his own doing it. This is an extremely difficult thing to do, and players of King's type often fail miserably.

    Why Is He Effective? King is one of the few big wingers in the game who combines size, speed and the ability to take and make a pass. It's a tough combination, but NHL coaches love it. King's even-strength offense is solid.

    Why Is He Underrated? NHL fans see dozens of big men with speed and the ability to hit everything that moves. They don't see those big men on skill lines, and it's rare they survive an entire season in the role. King might be the exception.

8. Antoine Roussel, LW, Dallas Stars

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    What Is His Role? Antoine Roussel is an effective winger for the Dallas Stars. His role is to take the tough zone starts against tougher opposition and make sure his team doesn't give up goals when he's on the ice. 

    Why Is He Effective? Roussel has been wildly successful in the role this year. The key appears to be his chemistry with linemates Ryan Garbutt and Cody Eakin.

    Why Is He Underrated? There was nothing in his junior or early pro career to indicate this level of success was in his future. If Roussel can remain productive in his current role, he'll become better known.

7. Marcus Kruger, C, Chicago Blackhawks

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    Charles Rex Arbogast

    What Is His Role? Marcus Kruger has a tough role on the Chicago Blackhawks. He's asked to face tough opposition and make extreme zone starts while posting some offense.

    Why Is He Effective? Kruger's skill set is a natural fit for the job. He's a solid two-way player, excellent in the faceoff circle and a fine penalty-killer.

    Why Is He Underrated? Players like Kruger don't get attention, but they're very important to the success of the team. Although he won't win any awards, you can bet the coaching staff and his teammates appreciate his work. 

6. Nick Bonino, C, Anaheim Ducks

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    What Is His Role? Nick Bonino is a soft-minutes scorer for the Anaheim Ducks. His role is to outscore while playing with role players and youngsters trying to establish themselves.

    Why Is He Effective? The 25-year old center is brilliant at the task, giving the Ducks a strong player for their bottom-six forward group. He's benefited from power-play success, too.

    Why Is He Underrated? Bonino was drafted in 2007, and it's taken forever for him to arrive as an NHL player. He was originally a San Jose pick, but has shown well since graduating college and turning pro. Bonino has filled a role for Anaheim.

5. Ryan Johansen, C, Columbus Blue Jackets

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    What Is His Role? Ryan Johansen is a sublime talent for the Columbus Blue Jackets. His job is to lead the team offensively despite difficult zone starts and the toughest available opposition.

    Why Is He Effective? The Blue Jackets were patient with Johansen and stuck with him through the growing pains. He is emerging as a top-flight talent and is the player Columbus thought it was getting when it drafted him.

    Why Is He Underrated? Columbus is a smaller market, and Johansen's fame hasn't reached the entire NHL. He's playing at an extremely high level, and this playoff season could mark his arrival as an impact player.

4. Ondrej Palat, LW, Tampa Bay Lightning

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    What Is His Role? Ondrej Palat is an exceptional rookie winger for the Tampa Bay Lightning. His role is to post offense while getting a zone-start push, and he's done it all season long. Palat and Tyler Johnson have flourished in the role, despite being asked to play tough opposition.

    Why Is He Effective? Credit goes to the player and the scouts who found him deep in the 2011 entry draft. Palat scored 30 points in 61 AHL games as a rookie pro two years ago, and is now one of the leading young scorers in the game.

    Why Is He Underrated? He's underrated for two reasons: He wasn't a high draft pick, and the Lightning don't play in a big media market. If Ondrej Palat made his debut in a big hockey market, he'd be famous by now. No need to worry, if he keeps playing this well the hockey world will catch up to him. 

3. Mats Zuccarello, RW, New York Rangers

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    What Is His Role? Mats Zuccarello is an offensive winger for the New York Rangers. The club gives him a zone-start push and excellent linemates, and expects him to deliver.

    Why Is He Effective? It's a perfect fit for his skills. Zuccarello led the Rangers in even-strength points this season and finished in the top 50 overall.

    Why Is He Underrated? New York has many famous names on its team, and Zuccarello is overshadowed by them. He also had some false starts to his NHL career. Coach Alain Vigneault found a role he could fill, and the story is being written in Manhattan this season.

2. Brad Marchand, LW, Boston Bruins

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    What Is His Role? Brad Marchand's job with the Boston Bruins is to flourish in a top-six forward role against some of the league's best opposition.

    Why Is He Effective? His agitating style obscures his actual ability as a hockey player. Marchand grades out well across the board and does it playing tough minutes.

    Why Is He Underrated? He has delivered offensively over several seasons now, so we can assume this is his established level of ability. Like Ken Linseman a few generations before him, Marchand probably suffers from being typecast as an agitating forward. Marchand's offense is largely uncredited, leading to his status as one of the most underrated players in this year's playoffs.

1. Jaden Schwartz, LW, St. Louis Blues

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    What Is His Role? Jaden Schwartz is an effective two-way winger with the St. Louis Blues. He's one of many forwards on the team who play an aggressive checking style while delivering offensively. 

    Why Is He Effective? Part of it comes from the exceptional forward depth St. Louis enjoys every night. Schwartz is often found on a line with Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Tarasenko, David Backes or Vladimir Sobotka. No matter the trio, they form a line that can score and defend effectively and be counted on to play tough minutes. 

    Why Is He Underrated? Schwartz is not an established player. He arrived in the NHL after the lockout ended, and fans are still catching up to his story. Schwartz is a talented forward who should be around a long time.