Connor McDavid

NHL Power Rankings: The most underrated players

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In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we shift our focus to individual players. Specifically, the most underrated players in the NHL right now.

We are trying to keep this to players that are legitimately underrated, overlooked, and do not get the proper amount of attention they probably deserve.

So we are just going to put this out here at the front front: You will not see Washington Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom or Florida Panthers forward Aleksander Barkov on this list. They are staples on every underrated list or ranking that is compiled and both have reached a point where everyone knows exactly how great they are (pretty great).

Who does make this list?

To the rankings!

1. Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers. While everyone falls all over themselves to talk about how underrated Barkov is, the Panthers’ other star forward is actually still fairly overlooked. Especially when you consider just how productive he has been, and for how long he has played at that level. Huberdeau has been a monster offensively for four seasons now and one of the league’s top scorers. Since the start of the 2016-17 season he’s in the top-15 among in points per game among all players with at least 100 games played, and has climbed into the top-10 over the past two seasons.

2. William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs. There’s probably a lot of people that would put him at the top of a most overrated list, and it’s truly one of the more baffling narratives in the league right now. Nylander is a constant lightning-rod for criticism and is always the first player that gets mentioned as being dangled as trade bait. What makes it so baffling is that he is an outstanding hockey player. Outside of the 2018-19 season (disrupted by his RFA saga) he has been a possession-driving, 60-point winger every year of his career, is still only 23 years old, and is on pace for close to 40 goals this season. Here’s a hot take for you: His $6.9 million salary cap hit will look like a steal before the contract expires. 

3. Kyle Connor, Winnipeg Jets. The Jets have a pretty good core of players that get their share of recognition — Patrik Laine, Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler specifically. Even Conor Hellebuyck is getting the proper level of respect this season and is going to be a Vezina Trophy front-runner. But Connor just quietly slides under the radar casually hits the 30-goal mark every season. His pace this season would have put him close to the 45-goal mark.

4. Ryan Ellis, Nashville Predators. Ellis is underrated in the sense that he seems to be generally regarded as a really good defenseman and another in a long line of outstanding defenders to come through the Nashville pipeline. He is much more than that. He is actually one of the best all-around defensemen in the entire league.

5. J.T. Miller, Vancouver Canucks. Over the summer I thought the Canucks were insane to trade a future first-round draft pick for Miller given where they were in their rebuild. It is not looking all that crazy right now. If anything, it is looking pretty outstanding. He was always a good player with upside in New York and Tampa Bay, but Miller has blossomed in Vancouver and become a bonafide top-line player.

6. Anthony Cirelli, Tampa Bay Lightning. As if the Lightning were not already dominant enough, they had another young talent come through their system to make an impact. Cirelli is only 22 years old and is already one of the league’s best defensive forwards while also showing 25-30 goal, 60-point potential.

7. John Klingberg, Dallas Stars. Klingberg is an interesting case because he’s received some serious Norris consideration on occasion (sixth-place finish two different times), but he still probably doesn’t get enough recognition for how good he has consistently been in Dallas. He is one of the top offensive-defensemen in the league and is much better defensively than he tends to get credit for. Heck, he’s better in every area than he tends to get credit for.

8. Jaccob Slavin, Carolina Hurricanes. Slavin might be starting to get into that Backstrom-Barkov area of underrated where he’s referred to as “underrated” so often that he is no longer underrated. But he is not quite there yet. He’s not going to light up the scoreboard or put up huge offensive numbers, but he is one of the best pure shutdown defensemen in the league.

9. Brendan Gallagher, Montreal Canadiens. Gallagher is generally viewed as a pest, but he is also on track for his third straight 30-goal season, is strong defensively, and is always one of the best possession players in the league. You may not like him when he plays against your team, but you would love him if he played for it.

10. Nico Hischier, New Jersey Devils. He is a recent No. 1 overall pick and just signed a huge contract extension so there is a certain level of expectation that comes with all of that. Maybe you think he has not matched it. But that is probably setting an unfair bar. Not every top pick is going to immediately enter the NHL and become a superstar at a Sidney Crosby or Connor McDavid kind of level. Sometimes it takes a few years. In the short-term, Hischier has already proven to have 20-goal, 50-point ability while playing a strong defensive game. There’s a lot more upside here, too. Don’t let the draft status and contract term trick you into thinking he hasn’t been good. He has been. He is also only going to get better.

Honorable mentions: Jeff Petry (Montreal Canadiens), Brian Dumoulin (Pittsburgh Penguins), Evgenii Dadonov (Florida Panthers), Tomas Tatar (Montreal Canadiens), Roope Hintz (Dallas Stars), Conor Garland (Arizona Coyotes), Jakub Vrana (Washington Capitals), Torey Krug (Boston Bruins), Ben Bishop (Dallas Stars), Jared Spurgeon (Minnesota Wild)

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Anaheim Ducks: This season’s biggest surprise, disappointment

Ducks
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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Anaheim Ducks.

Biggest surprise so far

There are not many, but Adam Henrique would easily qualify.

He is not only the Ducks’ leading goal-scorer and point producer, he was also on track for a career year offensively with 26 goals and 43 points along with strong possession numbers in his 71 games. He has done most of that damage at even-strength while playing only around 16 minutes per game. By comparison, when he scored 30 goals during the 2015-16 season in New Jersey he did it while playing close to 20 minutes per game.

How efficient has his goal scoring been this season? Among the 334 forwards that have logged at least 500 minutes of 5-on-5 ice-time this season, Henrique ranks 27th in the league in goals per 60 minutes. That has him sandwiched directly between Connor McDavid and Artemi Panarin. In other words, at even-strength he has been one of the best goal-scorers in the league.

An impressive accomplishment in any context. Even more impressive while playing on an otherwise offensively starved hockey team.

Biggest disappointment so far

It is not any one particular player, but rather a collective group effort.

That group being all of their young forwards not really taking any sort of a meaningful step forward in their development. This isn’t to say that they should be written off, or that they still can’t become good NHL regulars, but the group of Sam Steel, Max Jones, Troy Terry, Max Comtois, and Sprong (before his trade to Washington) did not really make any sort of a meaningful impact this season offensively. That was going to be a must for the Ducks to be even remotely competitive.

Now, to be fair, all of them are age 22 or younger and have very brief NHL resumes. Not every rookie or young forward is going to step right into the NHL and succeed. But there had to be an expectation that somebody would make a big leap this season and take on a bigger role with the offense. It did not happen.

John Gibson still did not get much help

Entering this season Gibson had established himself as one of the league’s top goaltenders. A game-changer that could help elevate any team he plays on and give them a chance to win any given a game.

If there was a reason to believe this team as constructed could remain competitive, it would be the goaltending duo of him Gibson and Ryan Miller. It is an unfair expectation to put all of that expectation on just two players at one position, but it was the reality of the team’s situation right now. Unfortunately for the Ducks, they did not even really get that this season as Gibson went through the least productive seasons of his NHL career.

It is also hard to put a lot of the blame on him. The defense in front of him was mired by injuries all season and just didn’t perform at a level that was high enough to give their goaltenders any support. That in itself is a bit of a disappointment. That the Ducks have been blessed with one of the league’s most valuable assets (not only a franchise goalie, but an outstanding backup) and still were not able to be even remotely competitive.

MORE:
Looking at the 2019-20 Anaheim Ducks
Ducks’ long-term outlook

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Where the NHL left off with 2019-20 season in limbo

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Here we are, into the unknown…

The coronavirus pandemic has forced the NHL to put the 2019-20 season on “pause.” When will see hockey again? How will the rest of the season play out? Will the Stanley Cup be awarded? Those are questions that will remain unanswered for the moment.

As we wait for hockey’s return, let’s remember where we left off after Wednesday night’s NHL action.

The standings

The Capitals, Bruins, Blues, and Golden Knights are your four division leaders and the Flyers, Penguins, Lightning, Maple Leafs, Avalanche, Stars, Oilers, and Flames are your No. 2 and No. 3 divisional seeds. Rounding out the playoff picture we have the Hurricanes, Blue Jackets, Jets, and Predators as the four wild cards.

Eager to find their way into a playoff spot, the Islanders, Rangers, Panthers, Canucks, Wild, and Coyotes are just a few points out.

The NHL could contemplate several options if there’s a timely return to playing games again. 

• The remainder of the season could be played with the beginning of the playoffs being pushed back beyond the original April 8 start date. 

• Cut down from 82 games to something in the 70’s and go from there. 

• End the regular season and use points percentage to determine the 16 playoff teams and seeds.

• Remember all that talk about “play-in” games like the NCAA basketball tournament? If there will not be a resumption of the regular season, teams can play a mini tournament to determine the final two playoff spots in each conference.

This situation is obviously very fluid and the NHL is contemplating a range of situations as they hope for a green light to play again.

There is the sense, though, that if the season extends into summer, it won’t affect the start of the 2020-21 schedule. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said on Sportsnet that he expects 2020-21 to be a “normal season.”

[RELATED: NHL decides to ‘pause’ regular season due to coronavirus]

That Brendan Lemieux hearing

The Rangers forward was scheduled to have a Friday hearing with the Department of Player Safety for his hit on Joonas Donskoi of the Avs.

Will we hear that announcement on Friday? Or will Lemieux have a long wait to not only learn his fate?

UPDATE:

The scoring races

Leon Draisaitl holds a 13-point lead over Oilers teammate Connor McDavid for the Art Ross Trophy:

Leon Draisaitl – 110 points
Connor McDavid – 97
David Pastrnak – 95 
Artemi Panarin – 95
Nathan MacKinnon – 93

Draisaitl is also in the mix for the Rocket Richard Trophy, but is five goals behind David Pastrnak and Alex Ovechkin, who each have scored 48 this season:

David Pastrnak – 48 goals
Alex Ovechkin – 48
Auston Matthews – 47
Leon Draisaitl – 43
Mika Zibanejad – 41

If there was a Gretzky Award for most assists, Draisaitl would have an edge there with 67, four more than McDavid and Artemi Panarin.

Leon Draisaitl – 67 assists
Artemi Panarin – 63
Connor McDavid – 63
John Carlson – 60
Brad Marchand – 59

The draft lottery picture

Here’s where the race to draft Alexis Lafreniere No. 1 overall stands:

Detroit Red Wings — 18.5 percent
Ottawa Senators  — 13.5 percent
Ottawa Senators* — 11.5 percent
Los Angeles Kings — 9.5 percent
Anaheim Ducks — 8.5 percent
New Jersey Devils — 7.5 percent
Buffalo Sabres — 6.5 percent
Montreal Canadiens — 6 percent
Chicago Blackhawks — 5 percent
New Jersey Devils** — 3.5 percent
Minnesota Wild  — 3 percent
Vancouver Canucks — 2.5 percent
Nashville Predators — 2 percent
Florida Panthers — 1.5 percent
Calgary Flames — 1 percent

(* SJ’s 2020 first-round pick owned by OTT)
(** ARZ’s lottery-protected 2020 first-round pick owned by NJ. If top three, moves to 2021)

Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told Pierre LeBrun on Friday that a decision on the draft and scouting combine has not been made at this point. He did add, “The only thought to conducting an on-line draft (or one conducted telephonically/technologically) would be if there would be a need to do so.”

The post-lockout 2005 NHL Draft was held in an Ottawa ballroom and featured no fans and only the top 20 prospects in attendance.

Bettman said on Thursday that he “expects” the league to resume at some point and he wants to award the Stanley Cup this season. TSN’s Frank Seravalli reported on Thursday that the league has reached out to teams to get arena availabilities through the end of July as part of preparing for what could happen next.

Then you also have the questions about what to do about free agency and when player contracts expire if the season goes beyond July 1? How is the 2020-21 salary cap, which was expected to rise, affected by this potential hit on revenue?

So many questions, and we don’t know when we’ll have any answers.

MORE:
Hockey leagues following NHL’s lead
Uncertainty awaits as NHL puts season on ice — for now
How grassroots hockey has been affected by COVID-19

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Push for the Playoffs: In the event the push doesn’t go on pause

Push for the Playoffs if NHL does not pause regular season
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(Update: The NHL decided to “pause” the 2019-20 season, so Thursday’s games have been canceled. Read more.)

Push for the Playoffs will run every morning through the end of the 2019-20 NHL season, barring a pause. We’ll highlight the current playoff picture in both conferences, take a look at what the first-round matchups might look like, see who’s leading the race for the best odds in the draft lottery and more.

As discussed in Thursday’s Morning Skate, it’s difficult to ignore the elephant in the room. While the NHL pushed the decision back on Wednesday, they’ll need to make the call soon. Will they put the season (and thus the Push for the Playoffs) on pause because of the coronavirus, much like the NBA, or will there be another solution? Could we see each team play multiple games in empty arenas?

A lot is unknown as of this writing.

Frankly, there’s also a lot to settle when it comes to various playoff races. If Thursday’s 10 games do take place, they will have serious implications for the standings.

Teams in dogfights for playoff spots cannot allow distractions to disrupt their games. That’s easier said than done, but teams like the Hurricanes, Panthers, Predators, Islanders, Coyotes, and others have little choice but to battle until the league blows the whistle to pause the Push for the Playoffs … you know, or not.

IF PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Bruins vs. Blue Jackets
Capitals vs. Hurricanes
Lightning vs. Maple Leafs
Flyers vs. Penguins

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Blues vs. Predators
Golden Knights vs. Jets
Avalanche vs. Stars
Oilers vs. Flames

TODAY’S GAMES WITH PLAYOFF CONTENDERS

Games canceled, season put on hold.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

 

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Hockey Reference)

Bruins – 100 percent
Lightning – 100 percent
Capitals – 99.9
Flyers – 99.4
Penguins – 95.5
Hurricanes – 79.3
Maple Leafs – 73.9
Islanders – 53.2
Panthers – 43.6
Blue Jackets – 33
Rangers – 22.2
Canadiens – 0
Sabres – 0
Senators – 0
Devils – 0
Red Wings – OUT

WESTERN CONFERENCE

 

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Hockey Reference)

Blues – 100 percent
Avalanche – 100
Golden Knights – 99
Stars – 95.6
Oilers – 93.3
Canucks – 67.9
Flames – 65
Jets – 56.8
Predators – 54.7
Wild – 49.6
Coyotes – 15.5
Blackhawks – 2.6
Ducks – 0
Kings – 0
Sharks – 0

THE DRAFT LOTTERY PICTURE

Detroit Red Wings — 18.5 percent
Ottawa Senators  — 13.5 percent
Ottawa Senators* — 11.5 percent
Los Angeles Kings — 9.5 percent
Anaheim Ducks — 8.5 percent
New Jersey Devils — 7.5 percent
Buffalo Sabres — 6.5 percent
Montreal Canadiens — 6 percent
Chicago Blackhawks — 5 percent
New Jersey Devils** — 3.5 percent
Minnesota Wild  — 3 percent
Winnipeg Jets — 2.5 percent
New York Rangers — 2 percent
Florida Panthers — 1.5 percent
Columbus Blue Jackets — 1 percent

(* SJ’s 2020 first-round pick owned by OTT)
(** ARZ’s lottery-protected 2020 first-round pick owned by NJ. If top three, moves to 2021)

ART ROSS TROPHY RACE

Leon Draisaitl, Oilers – 110 points
Connor McDavid, Oilers – 97 points
David Pastrnak, Bruins – 95 points
Artemi Panarin, Rangers – 95 points
Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche – 93 points

ROCKET RICHARD RACE

David Pastrnak, Bruins – 48 goals
Alex Ovechkin, Capitals – 48 goals
Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs – 47 goals
Leon Draisaitl, Oilers – 43 goals
Mika Zibanejad, Rangers – 41 goals

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

The Buzzer: Jets, Kings extend winning streaks; Blackhawks thump Sharks

Kyle Connor #81, Blake Wheeler #26 and Mark Scheifele #55 of the Winnipeg Jets
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Three Stars

1) Alex DeBrincat, Chicago Blackhawks

The goal-scoring numbers have not been there for DeBrincat this season, but a three-assist evening Wednesday helped the Blackhawks defeat the San Jose Sharks, 6-2. His helpers came on three consecutive goals (two on the power play) in the second period as the Blackhawks turned a one-goal deficit into a two-score advantage. DeBrincat’s most highlight-worthy assist came at 16:33 of the middle frame when he found Patrick Kane darting toward the back post. The 22-year-old forward weaved around Marc-Edouard Vlasic before Kane netted his second of the evening. Rookie forward Dominik Kubalik added his 30th of the season in the victory.

2) Kyle Connor, Winnipeg Jets

The Jets claimed sole possession of the first wild card in the Western Conference with a 4-2 win against the Edmonton Oilers. Connor scored twice in the third period to help the Jets extend their winning streak to four games. Defenseman Neal Pionk blocked a shot from Leon Draisaitl which allowed Connor to bolt toward the Oilers net. Blake Wheeler delivered a perfect pass to set up a breakaway for Connor who gave the Jets a 3-2 lead with a five-hole finish. Connor added an empty-net goal in the final minute to seal the victory for the Jets.

3) Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche

After missing five straight games with an upper-body injury, Makar returned to the lineup and pitched in offensively with three assists in the Avs’ 3-2 win against the Rangers. He helped set up power-play goals for Tyson Jost and Vladislav Namestnikov in regulation. Then, during the three-on-three overtime session, he moved around the offensive zone until firing a wrist shot that Compher eventually deflected for the game-winning goal. Makar has recorded 50 points this season and is in a tight race for the Calder Trophy with Vancouver Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes. The Avalanche remain two points behind the Central Division-leading St. Louis Blues but have one game in hand.

[RELATED: NHL evaluating options due to Coronavirus]

Highlights of the Night

Kane scored his second of the game after DeBrincat delivered a perfect cross-ice pass.

Connor McDavid returned to action and beat Connor Hellebuyck to the far post.

It only took Bobby Ryan 29 seconds to open the scoring when he buried this feed from Brady Tkachuk.

Playoff Push

Stat of the Night

Scores

Chicago Blackhawks 6, San Jose Sharks 2

Winnipeg Jets 4, Edmonton Oilers 2

Colorado Avalanche 3, New York Rangers 2 (OT)

St. Louis Blues 4, Anaheim Ducks 2

Los Angles Kings 3, Ottawa Senators 2


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.