The NHL is already a quarter of the way through the season and there has been plenty to talk about so far. With surprise leaders in everything from points to goaltending, the league is filled with much parity and that makes things almost impossible to predict.
The NHL, like any other league, has their fair share of underrated players. Here are the five most underrated players so far this season.
Marc-Andre Bergeron became a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2010-2011 season. He only played 23 games for them and put up only eight points. Bergeron has played for teams such as Edmonton, Montreal, Minnesota, Anaheim and the New York Islanders.
He has been around a 25-point player a season and isn't a solid plus/minus player, either. This season seems to be his breakout year, though. He has put up 20 points in 25 games with the Lightning and has a plus-two rating, which is better than his usual minus rating over the years. This has put him second in defensive scoring behind Erik Karlsson.
This outbreak in points could be a result of playing with stars such as Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier and of course Steven Stamkos. He hasn't played for a lot of good teams in the past and that could be the reason for his sparse offensive production in his career. Look for him to be in the top of the league in defensive scoring at the end of the year.
Tomas Fleischmann has been the most underrated forward of the season, in my opinion. He is 11th in the league in scoring with 27 points and is a huge reason for the Florida Panthers' stellar year so far. He has always been overlooked ever since his play in Washington. Then, he only played 23 games for the Avalanche last season.
His best season was 2009-2010, when he put up 51 points in 69 games with the Capitals. He is well on pace to beating his personal best this season. A huge reason for this breakout is the extra ice time and bigger role he has received in Florida. Dale Tallon wanted to get Fleischmann very bad this offseason because he saw the potential in him. He turned out to be more than right.
If Fleischmann can stay healthy and play around 80 games, expect him to put up points in the 60s, maybe even 70s. A huge health factor for him is his deep vein thrombosis, which caused him to miss a lot of games with the Avalanche last season.
Milan Michalek is in his third season with the Senators, and it could turn out to be one of his best, if not his best. He has only six assists on the season so far, but he has put up 16 goals. That puts him in a three-way tie for the league lead with Steven Stamkos and Phil Kessel.
The reason he is on this list is because it seems like everyone isn't taking him serious for a goal scoring title. His 16 goals are a major stat in the team's surprising success so far. Even though the Senators sit ninth in the Eastern Conference right now, most people didn't see them putting up this much of a fight with such a young, new roster.
Michalek could fall out of the race at anytime, but until it happens, I won't believe it. As long as Michalek keeps on pace for his career best for most goals in a season, look for Ottawa to be close to a final playoff spot.
Brian Burke was able to get John-Michael Liles from the Colorado Avalanche for only a second round draft pick in the 2012 NHL draft. He was a nice young defenseman for the Avalanche and now is even better in Toronto.
The reason he is being overlooked is because of players on the Leafs like Dion Phaneuf, Joffrey Lupul and of course Phil Kessel. He is fourth on the team in scoring this season with three goals and 13 assists. This is Toronto's best roster by far since the lockout era has begun, and it will most likely be their first playoff appearance in seven seasons.
Liles seems to fit in well with the group of guys he plays with and with some of the best scorers in the league around him, expect the points to keep coming. He could turn out to be a great trade for the Maple Leafs and have a great career for Toronto in the next few seasons to come.
Jimmy Howard is off to a career year in his third season with the Detroit Red Wings. He leads the league in wins with 15. He's second in GAA with a 1.83 and is also tied for second in the league with three shutouts. Despite all these amazing stats, people are still talking about Marc-Andre Fleury, Henrik Lundqvist and Tim Thomas. All great goalies, but not one of them has been better than Howard this season. Jimmy Howard isn't even a goalie to vote for in the fan voting at this year's All-Star Game. You have to write him in if you want to see him in Ottawa.
Jimmy Howard put up 37 regular-season wins in his first two seasons with Detroit. Expect him to break the 40-win mark this season. With a 15-5-1 record so far, you can even put him past 45 wins possibly. The only way he will get to 45 is if he keeps playing the same amount of games with struggling backup Ty Conklin not producing wins.
Look for Howard to be a Vezina finalist or even win it at the end of the season. I think he will stay atop the whole league and tally the most wins out of any goalie this season.