30 NHL Teams, 30 Underrated Players
Every single sports team in any league around the world always has its share of underrated players, sometimes known as the unsung heroes.
In the National Hockey League, these underrated players have the ability to step up and make contributions to their hockey team while not getting the spotlight they sometimes deserve.
The role of the unsung hero is huge in the NHL all season long, and we will look at all 30 National Hockey League teams and an underrated player on each roster who could make a huge impact this following season.
* These are not the top underrated players on each team, just some players I believe deserve some more credit than they're getting.
Edmonton Oilers: Ryan Jones
Ryan Jones may not be an instrumental building block to the Oilers' future, but the 6'1" winger brings energy and leadership to a young team in Edmonton.
The gritty third/fourth line winger tallied a career high with 18 goals last year, playing with an Oilers squad decimated with injuries. This allowed Jones to play more minutes and find a role on the lineup with strong importance to the development of the Oilers.
The Chatham, Ontario native plays in your face type of hockey but is able to stay disciplined, which lets him to earn more minutes a play a bigger role on the young team in Edmonton.
The 2012 season could be another career-high season for the 27-year-old as he finds himself as a potential lock for a top-nine forward spot. If the Oilers manage to stay healthy down the middle and have a third-line center to play with Ryan Jones, the former fourth-round pick could hit the 20-goal mark.
Colorado Avalanche: David Jones
After a season where many eye brows were raised in the Mile High City, Colorado Avalanche forward David Jones had a remarkable season.
The ninth-round pick of the Avs in 2003 managed to score 27 goals and rack up 45 points on a team that could barely win a game in the second half of last season.
Jones brings a good two-way style to his game and has a knack of scoring goals around the dirty areas of the net. He has the ability to fill in anywhere on the top three lines, which makes him very versatile for the Avalanche.
If the Guelph, Ontario native is able to receive a bounceback season from his fellow teammates, and is able to play at the level we have now seen him play, Jones could easily have another 25-plus goal season.
Florida Panthers: Dmitry Kulikov
Not only is Dmitry Kulikov one of the most underrated players on the Panthers roster, but he's also one the most underrated young defencemen in the league.
The 20-year-old enjoyed a good season with Florida, posting 26 points in 72 games on a Panther squad that is very thin on the back end.
The Russian has a very good hockey sense for a defencemen so young and has showed great upside on both sides of the ice.
With two years of experience already at the National Hockey League level and the helpful addition of Ed Jovanovski to the Panthers' defensive core, we might see Kulikov make a big impact on the Panthers' back end this season.
New York Islanders: Frans Nielson
Frans Nielsen has found himself climbing up the list as one of the best third-line centers in the National Hockey League, but you would never know until you watch the Dane play.
The 27-year-old does it all. He had a career high in points with 44 last season and has become a very well-used two-way hockey player on the island. He has great hockey sense and is fantastic on the penalty kill.
Nielsen has become more of a leader as the years go on, even though he is only 27. Younger players such as John Tavares and Josh Bailey can learn from the way Nielsen plays in the defensive zone.
Nielsen may not be able to be a 50-point man in the National Hockey League, but he will be useful on both ends of the ice for years to come.
Ottawa Senators: Jason Spezza
So this may be be the first time you ever have heard someone call Jason Spezza underrated, but on a team where the choices were slim to none, this was clearly the best choice.
Jason Spezza has seen his stock drop drastically throughout the seasons. With that being said, he's gone through more new linemates then any other center in the league due to the fact he has had numerous injuries not only to himself, but his wingers.
If we put all the criticism aside, the former first overall pick quietly had a good season for the Sens. He had 57 points in 62 games playing with a boatload of young prospects and was only a minus-five on a team with many minuses in the double digits. He took on a bigger leadership role, and it showed as many of the young forwards he played with progressed throughout the season.
For all the seasons Spezza has been called overrated, maybe this year we should cut him some slack and look at the situation he is in and the job he is doing.
Columbus Blue Jackets: RJ Umberger
RJ Umberger always seems to fall under the radar every National Hockey League season.
The former first-round pick of the Vancouver Canucks has been a steady offensive producer for many years. His big frame helps him become a hard forward for defencemen to handle.
Umberger can play on both sides on the ice and can play either the wing or take draws at center. He recorded a career high in points last year with 56.
With the acquisition of Jeff Carter from the Flyers, the Blue Jackets are now very deep down the middle of the ice. Umberger, if chosen to play center at times around the season, will make the Jackets that much better in the forward department.
The goal for the Jackets is to make the playoffs, and Umberger can easily make an impact on a playoff team with his size, grit and abilities with the puck.
Winnipeg Jets: Ondrej Pavelec
Ondrej Pavelec could be on the brink of becoming an all-star goaltender and may possibly be one of the most underrated goaltenders in the National Hockey League.
The 24-year-old had a solid year in Atlanta last season, posting a .914 save percentage in 58 games played. With only two full seasons of NHL experience under his belt, the Czech native looks to even have a better season playing for the Jets.
Pavelec will now be playing in a market that lives hockey, a bit of a change from Atlanta. With a lot more pressure on him, many critics are waiting to see if Ondrej can pull through for the Jets.
Pavelec has a bright future ahead of him for sure and has shown he can get it done. Now it's time for him to make a name for himself.
New Jersey Devils: Mark Fayne
The New Jersey Devils struck gold when they picked Mark Fayne in the fifth round in the 2005 NHL draft.
Marke Fayne has a bit of everything for an NHL defencemen and showed some of that last year in his rookie season.
Fayne uses his huge build to his advantage, making it tough for forwards to get around him. He makes smart plays with his good hockey sense. The best attribute about Fayne is that he can skate for a big 6'3", 220-pound defenceman. He offend can join the rush and create chances, but at the most part he is a stay at home defenceman.
With the progress he made in his rookie season surprising a lot of critics, expect this 24-year-old from Nashua, New Hampshire to become a huge part of the back end for the Devils in 2012.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Nikolai Kulemin
Nikolai Kulemin was easily one of the quietest 30-goal scorers in the National Hockey League last year.
The Russian accounted for 30 goals and 27 assists last year for the Maple Leafs, solidifying himself as a huge part of the Leafs' development for years to come.
At 25, Kulemin is looking to build on a succesful 2010-2011 campaign, and it is very likely he can do so. He has shown glimpses of becoming an offensive star, and it's time for the League to take some notice.
Minnesota Wild: Cal Clutterbuck
He is the hit machine around the NHL, but last year Cal Clutterbuck showed he could do more than throw his body around.
The Ontario native tallied a career high with 19 goals and 15 assists last season. Clutterbuck easily showed he can play at both ends of the rink in 2010-11.
Clutterbuck uses his speed to nail opposing team's players and to create chances around the net. With his in-your-face approach to the game, the 20-year-old isn't afraid to go the dirty spots around the goal to create chances for the Wild.
With already three years under his belt, and at the tender age of just 23, Clutterbuck could easily become a 20-plus goal scorer for the Wild. He is easily one of the most underrated players around the league and a player every team would love to have.
St. Louis Blues: Alexander Steen
Alexander Steen has easily become one of the better two-way forwards in the game.
Steen posseses a fantastic shot, good speed and is great in his own end. He even plays with an edge, making him even more valuable to the St. Louis Blues.
Steen finished off the season quietly strong last year. He posted 39 points in his last 49 games.
The former first-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs looks to help his young and talented Blues to the playoffs for the first time in three seasons. If he can continue on his success from late last year, he could have a career season in 2012.
Carolina Hurricanes: Chad Larose
Every NHL team would love to have a player like Chad Larose.
The 29-year-old is a versitile player. He can easily play any position on a forward line. Larose plays bigger than his size. He takes every chance he can get to lay a hit on opposing team's players.
He recorded 31 points last year, including 16 goals. The Michigan native uses his speed to create chances for not only himself but his teammates. Larose struggled in his own end last year, posting a minus-21 rating. With that being said, the Hurricane forward has always been known to be a good two-way hockey player and should rebound this season.
Calgary Flames: Curtis Glencross
If any General Manager was looking for a third-line winger and could have any in the League, many would choose Curtis Glencross.
Glencross has easily been one of the most underrated players in the league for years. He brings a bit of everything to the table. The Saskatchewan native is also very versatile and can be slotted anywhere in the lineup.
The 28-year-old finished the 2011 season with a career high in points with 43. He also finished with a career high in goals with 24. Glencross is a very talented two-way forward and can play on the edge when needed.
Curtis Glencross is a very important player for the Calgary Flames and could see his point totals rise in the 2012 season.
Dallas Stars: Steve Ott
Steve Ott has been widely regarded as the best antagonist in the National Hockey League. With that being said, Ott is one of the most valuable players to the Dallas Stars.
Not only can Ott get under the skin of opposing players with his mouth and bone crushing hits, but he can also irritate them with his surprising offensive abilities.
The former 2000 first round pick rounded up the 2011 season with 32 points. He also recorded 22 goals the year before. It's simple, Ott is one the most effective players the Stars have: He draws penalties, gets opponents off their game and can even chip in offensively.
Steve Ott is a player you'd hate to play against, but a player you'd love to have on your team.
New York Rangers: Brian Boyle
Brian Boyle has finally found a home in New York .
Boyle, the former Los Angeles Kings prospect, finished his second year on the Rangers with a career high 22 goals.
The 6'7" skilled giant is extremely hard to get off his feet and is a hassle for goaltenders who have to see the No. 22 in front him. Boyle has also developed into a solid third-line center and has found a role for the Rangers in that spot.
Brian Boyle looks to grow and produce more the New York Rangers as they look to make a push in the East. Boyle has the ability to have career-high numbers once again in the 2012.
Buffalo Sabres: Paul Gaustad
Buffalo Sabres forward Paul Gaustad has become one the best defensive centers in the game.
The 224-pound giant has been the usual matchup for opposing teams' top stars for years. Gaustad uses his big frame to be a threat along the boards and is hard to push off the puck. The 29-year-old also is one of the best faceoff men in the league and is used to take important draws in both zones on the ice.
The seventh-round pick by the Buffalo Sabres in 2000 also has the ability to produce offense, an ability most third/fourth defensive centers have. Gaustad tallied up 12 goals and 32 points last season.
Paul Gaustad rounds up a group of centers that looks as deep as any in the East.
Montreal Canadians: Tomas Plekanec
Tomas Plekanec always seems to fall under the radar when it comes to talk about the best two-way players in the game.
Now I know Plekanec is possibly the Canadians' best center, thus making him not underrated. With that being said, the Czech native is rarely mentioned around the league.
Tomas is now entering his sixth year with 57 points in 2011, 13 points fewer than he posted in 2010. Although there was a decrease in numbers, the third-round pick in 2001 still managed to post a plus-eight rating and had a career high in shots with 227.
Expectations in Montreal seem to always increase, and for Plekanec to be loved in a hockey-crazed city, he must continue to produce at both ends of the rink. This may be the year we hear a lot more of Tomas Plekanec.
Chicago Blackhawks: Bryan Bickell
Through the past five seasons or so, the Chicago Blackhawks have managed to pick up their fair share of pleasant surprises in their roster. This year, Bryan Bickell emerged as another good young hockey player for the 2010 Stanley Cup champs.
Bickell's first full year in the National Hockey League saw him wrap up an impressive 37 points in 78 games. The Ontario native racked up 17 goals and managed to be a plus player throughout the season with a plus-six.
The second-round pick in 2004 uses his 6'4", 224-pound frame to make him a difficult winger to play against.
With a year under his belt, and with Chicago off the "Stanley Cup hangover," Bickell could break out and rise as one of the best young power forwards in the league in 2012.
Los Angeles Kings: Jarret Stoll
The Kings may have the deepest center core in the National Hockey League going into the 2011-2012 season. Fitting into the third slot is the underrated Jarret Stoll.
Stoll plays with an edge, is great in his own end and has the ability to put up good offensive numbers. In 2011 the former Edmonton Oiler posted 43 points, including 20 goals.
The second-round pick in 2002 has a fantastic shot and used it many times for the Kings as a threat on the point on the power play. Stoll also is a fantastic faceoff man and is usually used to win big draws or on the penalty kill.
Slotted behind Anze Kopitar and Mike Richards, Stoll will look to make teams fear the Kings' third line in the upcoming season.
Phoenix Coyotes: Lauri Korpikoski
Finland has had its share of good two-way hockey players making an impact in the NHL. Lauri Korpikoski is one of them. The 25-year-old posted great numbers in just his third full year in the National Hockey League, yet it seemed like no one was talking about it.
The former first rounder of the New York Rangers had career highs in both goals and assists. No. 28 for the Yotes posted 40 points. The more impressive stat was that Lauri ended the season with a plus-17 rating, a plus-27 increase from 2010.
Korpikoski may quickly emerge as a great defensive forward for the Coyotes and plays big special teams minutes both on the power play and penalty kill.
The Turki, Finland native may break out and turn heads in 2012.
Nashville Predators: Kevin Klein
Kevin Klein is another product of a fantastic development program the Preds have set up for defensemen.
The 2003 second-round pick has had a long road to the National Hockey League and has proven to become a top-four d-man for the Preds in the past two seasons. He's clearly the most underrated blue-liner in the organization.
Klein brings a shutdown role to the defencive core that has seen many good young d-men excel. The Ontario native posted career highs in points with 18 and was a plus-eight in 2011.
The 6'1" defenseman fits well with the Predators' system and could have another solid season in 2012.
Anaheim Ducks: Tony Lydman
Tony Lydman is quietly one of the best stay-at-home d-men in the game. The Finnish native finished the 2011 campaign with another plus rating. He's done it six out of the last seven years. The one year he failed to post a plus rating was in 2009 with the Sabres, finishing with a zero.
It's simple and quite surprising. Lydman has been one of the most consistent blue liners in the game, yet rarely gets noticed for his accomplishments.
The Lahti, Finland native plays the game with great hockey smarts and rarely plays out of his comfort areas. He's very solid in his own end and can contribute once in a while in the scoring department.
Lydman has been a great role model for young Duck d-man Cam Fowler along with the other blue-liners with Anaheim. Who knows when Lydman will get the credit he deserves, but for all he cares, he's just focused on having another strong year in 2012.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Teddy Purcell
The Tampa Bay Lightning have their fair share of offensive talent in their lineup. Right behind St. Louis, Stamkos, Lecavalier and an underrated forward who goes by the name of Teddy Purcell.
Purcell has a great campaign in 2011. He posted 17 goals and 34 assists in a season where he managed to put up a plus-five rating.
The former King is a speedy winger who can play at both ends of the ice. He has quick instincts and is a very smart hockey player, making him a threat in the Lightning lineup. The undrafted winger could see his numbers increase in the 2012 season.
The 26-year-old may not be able to steal the spotlight from the stars in Tampa, but will continue to make steady contributions to a dangerous team in the Southeast.
Detroit Red Wings: Darren Helm
Kris Draper, who retired this offseason, was one of the more solid two-way forwards in the game in his prime. With the former Selke winner out of the lineup, another possible Selke winner is ready to turn heads at both ends of the ice this season.
Darren Helm, who is entering his third full season with the Wings, is sure to remind Detroit fans of Draper in years to come. The 24-year-old has adapted to becoming a great two-way forward in the National Hockey League.
The Manitoba native brings tons of speed to the table and uses it wisely. Helm posted career highs in both goals and assists last year and finished the season with 32 points. He also was a plus-nine in 2011.
Helm is a promising player for the Wings, yet is getting very little attention around the league. With that being said, the Wings' 2005 fifth-round pick is going to be one of the more valuable players in the Detroit system for years to come.
San Jose Sharks: Torrey Mitchell
With a Sharks roster very deep down the middle, it's often forgotten that Torrey Mitchell quietly makes an impact on a San Jose team with such high expectations.
Mitchell is a great, versitile player for San Jose. The fourth-round pick in 2004 slots perfectly behind Big Joe and Patrick Marleau on the third-line spot for the Sharks. With that being said, Torrey has found himself on the top two lines numerous times. He's used to bringing grit and quickness across the roster.
The 5'11" forward brings tons of speed to the lineup and has shown glimpses of great offensive abilities through his first three years in the league. Putting Mitchell's offensive potential aside, the man is a terrific player at both ends of the rink and isn't afraid to lay his body on the line to create chances.
Torrey Mitchell is looking to build on a subpar offensive season in 2011, but will always be a great fit for the San Jose Sharks' bottom two lines.
Philadelphia Flyers: Andres Meszaros
With Chris Pronger's injury brought upon the Flyers in the 2010-2011 National Hockey League season, every single blue-liner had to step up to attempt to fill the major gap left by the former Norris Trophy winner. One of those d-men was Andres Meszaros, who quietly had a remarkable, comeback season.
The former Lightning and Senator revamped his play in 2011. He finished the year with 32 points, but most impressively, the Czech posted a plus-30 rating.
Meszaros brings great size and good puck movement to a blue line that looks better then ever in Philadelphia. He once again could fly under the radar, but that may not be a bad thing. In 2005-2006, Meszaros surprised everyone when he shot out of the gate of his career with a plus-34 rating and 39 points. Then, with Ottawa, Andres received a lot of attention and strong accolades, yet never lived up to the hype.
Now in his fifth year in the league, Meszaros would most likely like to stay under the shadow of Pronger and Timonen and have another great season for the Flyers.
Washington Capitals: Mike Knuble
Thirty-nine year old Mike Knuble is still showing he can get it done in the National Hockey League.
The Toronto native enjoyed his eight straight 20-plus goal seasons. This year he accomplished that with the Washington Capitals. He finished the season with 40 points, including 24 goals. Mike normally gets his goals in front of the net, as the 14-year veteran isn't afraid to get his nose dirty to generate chances for the Caps.
A fourth-round pick in 1991, Knuble brings a ton of experience and leadership to a Capital team in much need of a long playoff run. His leadership has made him a favorite in the Washington dressing room.
Knuble has quietly had strong seasons in the National Hockey League and now is entering the ladder parts of his career. With the tunnel getting brighter, Mike is looking to help bring the Stanley Cup to America's capital this season.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Chris Kunitz
Saskatoon native Chris Kunitz has been enjoying a very successful, yet short National Hockey League career. His experience makes his very valuable on and off the ice for his teammates. The underrated forward has already won two Stanley Cups, yet plays the game with his eye on the prize each season.
The 31-year-old has the ability to play at both ends of the rink and isn't shy to make a hit. He finished the 2010-2011 season with 48 points, including 155 hits. Last season he played on a Pittsburgh team without captain Sidney Crosby and forward Evgeni Malkin, yet still managed to play an important role on a Pens squad that finished another season with 100-plus points.
Kunitz has shown his importance to the Penguins through the years, yet hasn't gotten the respect he should get around the league. The undrafted winger started his career off being a long shot, yet he has managed to be an important player on both the championship teams he's played for.
Vancouver Canucks: Jannik Hansen
"The Great Dane," formally known as Jannik Hansen, is a versatile player whose game has grown throughout his years in Vancouver.
The 25-year-old is greatly underrated in the city of Vancouver and across the league. Hansen brings speed and grit to a team that has much of it. He is a perfect fit onto a third line and plays a lot bigger than his size by finishing his checks every shift.
Jannik used his speed to create numerous chances for himself and his linemates in 2011. The Dane doesn't have the tools to be a finisher yet in the National Hockey League, but makes most of his contributions on the penalty kill and in the defensive zone.
The ninth-round pick in 2004 had a career high in points last season with 29. There's no guarantee Hansen will top that number this season, but we could see No. 36 for the Canucks grow into a noticeable two-way forward in 2012.
Boston Bruins: Brad Marchand
Goaltender Tim Thomas, forward Nathan Horton and captain Zdeno Chara received most of the spotlight during the Bruins' Stanley Cup playoff run. A 5'9" "rat" could have easily been in the light as well.
Yes, Brad Marchand maybe the most hated player in the National Hockey League and the most annoying to play against, but if you manage to push all his antics aside, the Halifax, Nova Scotia native can do a lot more than just run his mouth.
The 2006 third-round pick of the Bruins plays the game on the edge, yet has the ability to make plays that can impact the outcome of a game. From laying a hit down on a star player, to scoring a highlight-reel goal, Marchand can do it all.
The 23-year-old played an instrumental role in the road to the Cup for the Bruins. During the season, Marchand became a 20-goal scorer and a major antagonist. During the playoffs he was just as useful, scoring 11 goals and being a thorn in every team he faced.
Brad Marchand will grow as a hockey player and also grow out the shell that has him titled just as an antagonist.