Not every team can be filled with Crosbys and Malkins or Getzlafs and Perrys. And for every Steven Stamkos, you have five middle of the lineup players that give a game-in and game-out effort that helps propel a team to success.
With the advent of advanced statistics, it becomes somewhat easier to pick these players out. For instance, you can find the players driving play and maintaining puck possession or you can see the player who may be underachieving in point categories but still creating opportunities for his linemates. The following five players are the best of the rest, and while they may not get headlines, they’re certainly getting noticed.
Mathieu Perreault, Winnipeg Jets
If you were to compile a list of the best off-season signings, you’d be hard-pressed to find a player that deserves top be in the top five more than Perreault, and few would have guessed that before the season began. Perreault is, in a sense, the player the Jets signed to replace Olli Jokinen, and he’s been incredible for Winnipeg.
Even though it took Perreault more than a month to get his first goal as a Jet, he was steadily one of the most impressive players on the ice for a team that has really turned things around this season. The Jets haven’t been offensively powerful in 2014-15 and you can see it in the 27-year-old winger’s underlying numbers, as he boasts an on-ice shooting percentage of 5.69 percent. For some perspective, his on-ice shooting percentage hasn’t been below 10 percent in any of his full-time NHL seasons.
Even still, Perreault is on pace for 42 points, one shy of his career high of 43 set last season as a member of the Anaheim Ducks. It doesn’t hurt that Perreault has 14 points in his last 14 games, and tallied five goals and nine points during an eight game point streak.
Marco Scandella, Minnesota Wild
Scandella’s career high for points is 17. He accomplished that last season, potting three goals and 14 assists. As of Monday, Scandella has nine goals and 15 points in fewer than half the games he played all of last season. To say Scandella is having a career year would be an understatement. The only thing that’s making Scandella a lesser story is Ryan Suter playing like, well, Ryan Suter.
Scandella is almost entirely playing out of the defensive zone, however, which makes his numbers all the more impressive. It’s not as if he’s teamed with Suter, either. Primarily, Scandella’s minutes have come alongside Jared Spurgeon, and were it not for Minnesota’s terrible goaltending, it’s possible the Spurgeon/Scandella pairing would be considered one of the breakout pairs of the season.
Dougie Hamilton, Boston Bruins
The Boston Bruins are struggling this season, and no one can really deny that. You can’t help but think things would be much worse, however, if it weren’t for Hamilton.
Hamilton was a stalwart during the months the Bruins were without Zdeno Chara, and now, with Chara back and his game struggling, Hamilton has continued to step up. Arguably, Hamilton has been the Bruins best blueliner all year, and though he may still make a mistake here and there, it’s hard to imagine the Bruins without him.
He has already tied his career high with seven goals this season, and is just three points away from setting a career best point total with half a season remaining.
Dmitry Kulikov, Florida Panthers
Much of the talk when it comes to the Panthers blueline this season has been about Aaron Ekblad and Brian Campbell. While the pairing of the rookie and veteran rearguard deserves the praise being heaped upon it, Kulikov is quietly turning into the player Florida was hoping it was getting when they drafted him 14th overall in 2009.
The smooth-skating Kulikov, 24, is already in his sixth NHL season, so it makes sense he’s starting to come along nicely. For all the great things the Panthers have done this year, Kulikov’s play in the defensive zone hasn’t been given near enough press. Alongside captain Willie Mitchell, Kulikov has a 55.9 Corsi For percentage at 5-on-5. Without Mitchell, his Corsi For stays roughly the same, while Mitchell's plummets to below 44 percent. Safe to say who is driving play there.
On top of being stellar defensively and driving play, Kulikov is also on pace to have his best offensive season since 2011-12, as his 11 points at this point in the season put him on a 26-point clip. His point totals may not mirror Ekblad, but there's an argument to be made that, after Campbell, Kulikov has been the best blueliner for Florida.
Colin Wilson, Nashville Predators
There isn’t a certain order to how much impact these under the radar players are having, but Wilson is the star of this list, if only because he plays in a market where he’s not getting near the attention he deserves and is being overshadowed by Filip Forsberg having one of the best rookie seasons in some time.
Wilson’s career high is 35 points, and that came on the strength of 15 goals and 20 helpers back in 2011-12. Wilson already has 11 goals this season, five off of his career high, and is on pace to break the 20-goal plateau. He’s also on a 48-point pace, and even if he doesn’t reach it, he seems a lock to break his old career best.
Wilson, as much as anyone on the Predators roster, has been the beneficiary of the coaching change as Peter Laviolette’s style has turned him into a consistent scoring threat and a possession monster. He may be starting most of his shifts in the offensive zone, but he’s not being sheltered. This is simply effective deployment by Laviolette, and Wilson and the Predators are benefitting big time.