Skip to main content

Unsung Heroes: The 31 players who haven’t gotten enough credit for great seasons

There's a handful of NHL players who will be celebrated at season’s end with awards and recognition from the league or their respective teams, but here are 31 players who won’t get much praise despite piecing together excellent campaigns.

At the end of the season, every NHL team hands out their own version of an MVP award, giving out the honors to a forward, defenseman or goaltender who had a great impact on the club’s performance throughout the season. 

But there are others who contribute in big ways without getting a piece of hardware to take home and place in their trophy case. They’re the unsung heroes, the players whose seasons the 31 fan bases sometimes took for granted or whose play was overshadowed by that of another star player. So, with that in mind, here are the 31 players who deserve more credit for their play this season:

ANAHEIM DUCKS: This nod could go to Ondrej Kase or Brandon Montour or Josh Manson, but the acquisition of Adam Henrique has paid incredible dividends. In 55 games, he’s put up 19 goals and 33 points and came in at a time when the Ducks were desperate to add some help down the middle. Not only that, he’s scored seven game-winning goals. Not bad.

ARIZONA COYOTES: Derek Stepan was supposed to be a difference-maker for the Coyotes this season, so maybe this isn’t a stretch. That said, he has repeatedly been named by rookie sensation Clayton Keller as one of the players who has helped the youngster along this season and he’s contributed big time at both ends of the ice. Sure, the Coyotes are missing the post-season again, but Stepan’s presence might help turn the tide in Arizona.

BOSTON BRUINS: Most of the praise when it comes to the Bruins’ defense corps is directed towards rookie upstart Charlie McAvoy and veteran Zdeno Chara, but don’t sleep on Torey Krug. His 14 goals and 58 points put him fourth in scoring on the Bruins — he’s only behind the three members of Boston’s top line — and he’s ninth in league scoring by a blueliner. He’s been excellent, and it’s gone relatively unnoticed outside of Boston.

BUFFALO SABRES: We get it. There’s no shortage of frustration in Buffalo and there will be a number of Sabres fans who consider his contributions too little, too late, but Sam Reinhart has had a monster second half of the season. Since Jan. 1, there are only 28 players in the league who have put up more points than Reinhart, who has 19 goals and 38 points across his past 42 games.

CALGARY FLAMES: Dougie Hamilton was never really mentioned in Norris Trophy discussions and he’s certainly not going to get a look with Calgary missing out on the post-season. Fact of the matter, though, is Hamilton was on one of the most limiting defensive pairings in the league and had himself a whale of a campaign. He’s scored 17 goals and 44 points.

CAROLINA HURRICANES: Carolina is starting to see the type of player Teuvo Teravainen can be in the future. It took a while — expectations were higher than a 15-goal, 42-point campaign last season — but his 23-goal, 62-point performance this year is a great sign for the Hurricanes. Most of the hope for Carolina entering the season was based on their blueline, but Teravainen made it clear they have some bright young offensive weapons.

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS: Patrick Kane is expected to put points on the board, Jonathan Toews is expected to be a strong two-way presence and Duncan Keith is supposed to be the rock-solid blueliner, but Nick Schmaltz looks as though he’s the next-most important part of the core already. He’s only putting the finishing touches on his sophomore season, but Schmaltz’s emergence gave Chicago another steady offensive threat and he’s only getting better.

COLORADO AVALANCHE: If Colorado earns the final playoff berth in the Western Conference, Nathan MacKinnon is going to get a lot of love in the Hart Trophy race, but you have to wonder where the Avalanche would be without Tyson Barrie. The Colorado blueliner has averaged upwards of 22 minutes per night this season and has been a monster in the second half. He has nine goals and 28 points in his past 33 games.

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS: Oliver Bjorkstrand’s performance last season during his abbreviated stint with the big club was full of promise. He registered six goals and 13 points in 26 games. And he’s kept up that scoring rate over his first full season in the big leagues. The 22-year-old has 11 goals and 40 points in 80 games, and though he’s only averaging bottom-six minutes, he’s proven he can be a dynamic offensive threat.

DALLAS STARS: Much maligned last season and considered trade fodder as the summer approached, things could have been much worse for the Stars this season without Kari Lehtonen. The plan when acquiring Ben Bishop wasn’t to play Lehtonen for nearly half a campaign, but he saw action in 36 games and improved his save percentage and lowered his goals-against average significantly. He was a solid backup.

DETROIT RED WINGS: There weren’t a lot of heroes in Detroit this season, period. That said, Dylan Larkin likely hasn’t gotten enough credit league-wide for the campaign he’s put together after his disappointing sophomore season. His goal total is down again as he’s on pace to register just 15, but Larkin has tripled last season’s assist total and is on track to finish with 61 points, nearly double what he had in 2016-17. That’s a great rebound for a budding youngster.

EDMONTON OILERS: When is Connor McDavid finally going to get some credit, right? Kidding, obviously. The nod in Edmonton should go to Darnell Nurse. Defensively, the Oilers haven’t been much to write home about, but Nurse has logged a ton of minutes and has really shown some great progression year over year. His six goals and 25 points also saw him more than double his previous career bests. All good things.

FLORIDA PANTHERS: There’s a few Panthers deserving of the nod, be it Keith Yandle, who has somehow flown under the radar despite his 55-point season, or Vincent Trocheck, who has been dynamite but had his performance overshadowed by Aleksander Barkov. Mike Matheson deserves far more credit than he gets, though. He’s a solid defender with an offensive flair, chipping in 10 goals and 27 points this season.

LOS ANGELES KINGS: Jake Muzzin isn’t in the Norris Trophy discussion like Drew Doughty, he’s not in the Hart Trophy conversation like Anze Kopitar, and Dustin Brown’s resurgence has overshadowed a lot of what’s happened in Los Angeles this season. But Muzzin has had a stellar season, scoring eight goals and 42 points and contributing big-time at both ends of the ice.

MINNESOTA WILD: Like others on this list, a big individual performance from a teammate, in this case Eric Staal, has drawn all the attention and resulted in Jason Zucker’s personal-best season not getting the love it should. For the second consecutive year, Zucker has set new career highs in goals, assists and points.

MONTREAL CANADIENS: The bright spots have been few and far between in Montreal, but Jeff Petry is one. Coming into the season, he had a career high of eight goals, 28 points and 22 minutes of ice time per game. He has bested all three, scoring 10 goals, 41 points and averaging 23:30 per outing this season. He’s been the shining light on an otherwise awful blueline.

NASHVILLE PREDATORS: Ryan Ellis missed half the season, so you can forgive some for overlooking his impact on the Predators’ Presidents’ Trophy-winning season. It should be noted, however, that before Ellis returned from injury, Nashville was sixth in the NHL with a 23-10-5 record and 51 points. No team has been better than the Predators since Ellis’ return, though, and the 64 points Nashville has accumulated in the back half has been helped along by the defender’s nine goals and 32 points in 43 games.

NEW JERSEY DEVILS: You need look no further than Keith Kinkaid, and for more insight into that, check out our blog on the Devils netminder from a few days back.

NEW YORK ISLANDERS: A lot of attention has been paid to John Tavares in what is potentially his final season as an Islander. Meanwhile, Mathew Barzal’s rookie brilliance has been headline-worthy. And then there’s the brief pursuit of the Rocket Richard Trophy by Anders Lee. But the unsung hero is Jordan Eberle, who was a key offensive cog for New York, netting 25 goals in his first season as an Islander.

NEW YORK RANGERS: His rookie campaign was difficult at times, but Pavel Buchnevich is starting to prove he can be a legitimate NHL scoring threat as a sophomore. Is he going to compete for the scoring title? No, but Buchnevich has fired home 14 goals and 43 points and he’s seen his ice time climb to the point he’s consistently skating in the middle-six.

OTTAWA SENATORS: The early returns on the Matt Duchene acquisition were awful. He scored six points in his first 24 games with the Senators, and it was easy to write off the deal as a bust. Duchene has been excellent in the second half of the season, though. Across his past 42 games, he has 20 goals and 42 points, making him one of the league’s top scorers in the second half.

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS: Travis Konecny’s season can be broken down into two distinctive halves: the half-campaign before he was lined up with Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier and the half-campaign after he landed on the top unit. It was around mid-season that Konecny landed with the top line, and after scoring four goals and 13 points in 38 games to start the year, Konecny has come on strong with 20 goals and 34 points in his past 42 games.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS: He’s the highest scorer on this list by a mile, but it still feels like Phil Kessel isn’t getting his due in Pittsburgh. He has 33 goals and 90 points, making for the best overall offensive season of his career, but he’s overshadowed by Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. Even Kris Letang and Matt Murray seem to get more praise. But Kessel has been a driving force for the Penguins in their pursuit of a third consecutive Stanley Cup.

ST. LOUIS BLUES: A playoff berth is still up in the air for the Blues, but you can rest assured that Colton Parayko has and will continue to do everything in his power to help St. Louis punch their ticket to the post-season. The towering Blues rearguard has wired home six goals, has 35 points and is averaging nearly 23 minutes per night. He has been as steady as any defender in the lineup.

SAN JOSE SHARKS: Shutdown rearguards never get the headlines. Marc-Edouard Vlasic knows that. It’s largely thankless work. But that hasn’t stopped Vlasic from playing his role to near perfection. He has averaged upwards of 22 minutes per night and makes his living trying to slow down the game’s top talents each and every outing. He’s also made noise offensively, scoring a career-high 11 goals and registering 32 points.

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING: Some were up in arms that the Lightning traded Jonathan Drouin in the off-season, but Brayden Point is making it quite clear why Tampa Bay saw Drouin as an expendable piece. Point isn’t leading the team in scoring or goals, but it might surprise you to learn he ranks second in ice time among forwards and has 31 goals and 65 points in 80 games. Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos get the press, but Point could make a name for himself this spring.

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS: The Maple Leafs’ defense corps isn’t considered among the best in the league and it’s largely overshadowed by the plethora of young, talented forwards in Toronto. Both are reasons why Jake Gardiner doesn’t get a lot of attention throughout the NHL, but look at his numbers this season: five goals, 50 points and 22:35 per game across 81 outings for the Maple Leafs. He also has more than 100 blocked shots. He’s a do-it-all defender.

VANCOUVER CANUCKS: Daniel and Henrik Sedin are heroes through and through and they’ve made headlines across North America as they get set to skate into the sunset. But even before all eyes focused in on the final outings for the Canucks legends, the dynamic duo were playing fantastic hockey. They rank second and third, respectively, in team scoring and have continued to be leaders to the next generation in Vancouver. 

VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS: Erik Haula won’t mind, of course, but the fact that his season flown under the radar league-wide is astounding. He came into this campaign with 42 goals in 266 career games, but the Vegas magic has blessed his hands and allowed him to pot 29 goals in 75 outings this season as a second-liner with the Golden Knights. He has more than doubled his previous career high in points, too. If not for William Karlsson, Haula would be the story in Vegas.

WASHINGTON CAPITALS: Alex Ovechkin’s pursuit of another Rocket has the attention of hockey fans across the globe. John Carlson’s pending free agency on the heels of a career year is also a big story. And Nicklas Backstrom is, well, Nicklas Backstrom. He’s outstanding in everything he does. So what, then, of Evgeny Kuznetsov? It feels like we should be talking about his 27-goal, 82-point campaign more than we are.

WINNIPEG JETS: There are few defenders in the league more underrated than Josh Morrissey. He was thrust into a top-pairing role last season and performed admirably and has only earned a bigger slice of the ice-time pie this season, skating 20:30 per game. He has blocked 166 shots this season, shut down top skaters on a nightly basis and chipped in seven goals and 26 points in 80 games. If the Jets go on a deep run, Morrissey won’t be flying under the radar much longer.

Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.



Fischler Report: So You Want Your Son to be an NHL Star

Stan Fischler chats with former NHLer Jeff Chychrun about everything leading up to his son Jakob's rise to the big leagues. Plus, Fischler looks at the Hughes brothers, a heartwarming Buffalo Sabres story, the value of being a Presidents' Trophy winner and much more.

WJC 3 Stars

World Junior Championship 3 Stars: Bergmanis, Hirvonen, and Cooley Shine on Day 6

There's just one day left to go in the preliminary round of the World Junior Championship. But before that, Tony Ferrari looked at three top performers from Sunday's action – and it was a wild day indeed.

Nazem Kadri

NHL Free Agency: Top 10 UFAs Midway Through August

With much of the NHL sitting tight against the salary cap, the free agent market has been rather quiet in recent weeks. Here are the top 10 UFAs still available.