Conor Garland

NHL Power Rankings: The most underrated players

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.

Arizona Coyotes: This season’s biggest surprise, disappointment

Kessel Coyotes surprise disappointment
Getty Images

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 Arizona Coyotes.

Goaltending delivering for another season a crucial surprise for Coyotes

The most crucial surprise wasn’t necessarily out of left field: once again, the Coyotes received brilliant goaltending.

Darcy Kuemper basically transformed into a Vezina-worthy goalie from January 2019 on in 2018-19, but it seemed like a lot to ask for him to do it again.

Yet, for much of the first few months, Kuemper managed to be just as good, generating a tremendous .928 save percentage over 29 games this season. But you’ll notice that injury-reduced workload of 29 games and realize that it was about more than Kuemper.

[PHT Q&A with Kuemper]

After his own troubling run of injuries, Antti Raanta answered the call. Raanta played almost as well as Kuemper (including a .921 save percentage) over 33 appearances. Remarkably, Adin Hill quietly put together strong work (.918 in 13 GP) of his own, too.

Do the Coyotes help their goalies out a bit? Sure, but they don’t necessarily stand out among the best-of-the-best in every defensive category. In a league where netminding feels random, the Coyotes received (almost) two seasons of stellar work, injuries and all.

Garland’s ascent the biggest surprise for Coyotes, though

But the purest surprise is the rise of Conor Garland.

Garland spent part of last season with the Coyotes, managing 18 points in 47 games. The 25-year-old is skyrocketing up Arizona’s depth chart now, though. Garland currently ranks third in team scoring with 39 points, one more than Phil Kessel and Christian Dvorak. Not bad for a player who’s full season time-on-ice average sits just about 14 minutes per game.

There’s evidence that he’s getting a boost in ice time (about 16 minutes per night in January and February), so his days of sneaking up on people are likely numbered.

Garland provided evidence that he could be a hidden gem with solid possession stats and prolific QMJHL production. It’s nonetheless still surprising to see him soar like this.

Biggest Coyotes disappointment so far

Plenty of people pointed out that Phil Kessel’s lost a step/multiple steps, but he’s been a letdown even considering lowered expectations. No, it’s not surprising that Kessel is living off of the power play, especially when it comes to goals (nine of his 17 on the PP), but 38 points in 70 games is a bummer for a player who increasingly struggles to outscore his problems.

Seeing Kessel finish dead last on this GAR chart (by Charting Hockey via Evolving Hockey’s stats) is troubling:

Any defensive-minded team hopes to find ways to add offense to their recipe without spoiling what made their dishes work in the first place.

It’s clear that Kessel wasn’t the missing ingredient to spice things up for the Coyotes. The team seems to realize that it’s better to sprinkle him in lately, at least. After averaging 17:38 TOI heading into the All-Star break, the Coyotes only deployed Kessel for 15:52 per night in 19 games since.

Taylor Hall: Coyotes disappointment, or not?

As far as Taylor Hall goes, the winger’s generated 10 goals and 27 points in 35 games with Arizona. That output ranks him 10th overall in team scoring already. (Somewhat amusingly, Hall’s main stumbling point is the power play, where Kessel’s made his living.)

Maybe the Coyotes will regret paying a price to trade for Hall and/or not flipping Hall before the trade deadline, but considering how their offense isn’t necessarily a locomotive, I’d say he’s delivered more or less what someone can reasonably expect.

Kessel, though? As much as we love the nice guy who tries hard and loves his dog, he simply hasn’t been the catalyst the Desert Dogs were hoping for.

At least it was a delight to see Kessel in those “Peyote” throwbacks, though:

(Photo by Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images)

MORE:

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.

Coyotes’ Garland week to week with lower-body injury

Coyotes
Getty

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Arizona Coyotes leading scorer Conor Garland has left the team after he suffered a lower-body injury against Calgary.

The Coyotes said Sunday that Garland has returned to Arizona while the team continues its trip through western Canada. He is listed as week to week.

Garland was injured in Friday’s 3-2 loss when he collided with Flames goalie Cam Talbot.

The 23-year-old right wing leads the Coyotes with 22 goals and is third with 39 points in 68 games. He had 13 goals and five assists in 47 games as a rookie last season.

Garland’s injury is a big blow to the Coyotes as they fight for their first playoff appearance since reaching the 2012 Western Conference Final. Arizona has 74 points through Saturday’s games, two behind the final Western Conference playoff spot. The Coyotes play at Winnipeg on Monday.

The Buzzer: Mangiapane tricks Ducks; Lightning win record 11th straight

Getty Images

THREE STARS

1. Andrew Mangiapane, Flames

The Flames’ 6-4 win over the Ducks was powered by Mangiapane’s first career hat trick. Two of his three goals came during a third period where Calgary entered it trailing 3-1 and scored five times en route to the win. He would register an assist on Matthew Tkachuk‘s 20th of the season to add to a career-best four-point night. The hat trick is also the first by a Flames player this season.

2. Antti Raanta, Coyotes

Arizona won for the second straight game behind Conor Garland‘s 20th goal of the season and 28 saves from Raanta. The 2-1 win over the Islanders gives the Coyotes a winning streak for the first time since Dec. 31-Jan. 7 and also puts them into a tie for the final Western Conference wild card spot. Raanta’s been in net for both wins and has stopped 64 of his last 66 shots faced.

3. Nikita Kucherov, Lightning

The Lightning set a franchise record with their 11th consecutive win by topping the Avalanche, 4-3, in overtime. During the extra period, it was Kucherov beating Pavel Francouz five-hold to keep Tampa red-hot. How hot? They are 23-2-1 since Dec. 21.

AVS LOSE RANTANEN

Adding to the bad night against Tampa, the Avalanche lost Mikko Rantanen to an upper-body injury in the second period. He’ll be out for “weeks.”

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE NIGHT

• Here’s Alex Ovechkin catching up with old teammate Nate Schmidt:

• They don’t see each other often, but the temperature certainly rose when the Avs and Lightning met:

STATS OF THE NIGHT

Jonathan Huberdeau picked up his 50th assist of the season in the win over the Sharks. He now joins Aleksander Barkov as the only two players in Panthers franchise history to record multiple 50-assists seasons.

• Via the NHL, Matthew Tkachuk is now the fourth player in Flames history to record three 20-goal seasons before his 23rd birthday. Sean Monahan (4 times), Robert Reichel (3 times) and Jarome Iginla (3 times) are the only others on the list.

SCORES
Coyotes 2, Islanders 1
Panthers 5, Sharks 3
Flames 6, Ducks 4
Golden Knights 3, Capitals 2
Lightning 4, Avalanche 3 (OT)

————

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.

Conor Garland establishing himself as key piece of Coyotes’ future

Conor Garland knew he had to make the most of his first opportunity in the NHL.

Players that fit his profile (not only a fifth-round draft pick, but also one that has always had to carry around the “undersized” label) do not typically get many opportunities to stick.

If they do not make a strong first impression, there may not be a second one.

Garland not only seized his chance last season, he has run with it and over the past calendar year become one of the Arizona Coyotes’ best offensive players and a significant part of their up-and-coming core.

“Something me, and my dad, and my trainer always discussed a lot is that you have to be ready for your first chance in the NHL whenever it comes,” Garland told NBC Sports Wednesday.

“As a smaller guy, and as someone that was drafted in the fifth round, you might only get one or maybe two chances at most. So when I got that call I was obviously ecstatic about getting to play in the NHL, but also realizing that if you have three or four average games you might get sent back to the AHL and never get a call again. I just wanted to play my game, play my style, and do what got me called up to try and stay every day.”

That initial call to the NHL was the result of an unending run of injuries to the Coyotes’ roster, as well as Garland himself showing steady development in the AHL, building confidence, and starting to regain the scoring touch he displayed in his final two years in the QMJHL when he was one of the league’s top scorers and the 2014-15 MVP.

“The Coyotes put so much work into me, especially in that first year and a half where things weren’t going well and I was struggling and not scoring,” said Garland. “But after Christmas my second year as a pro, I really took off offensively and got my confidence back and started to become the player I was in Juniors. The more games you get, the more confidence you get and I feel that way up here in the NHL now. You just have to focus on getting better every day, and I think I did. It took a while, but I finally got there.”

Now that he is there, he hasn’t stopped scoring.

Entering Thursday, Garland leads the team with 19 goals, while his 32 since his debut are 13 more than any other player on the team during that stretch.

He has also been one of the most efficient scorers in the entire league.

Since making his NHL debut, he has averaged 1.20 goals per 60 minutes of even-strength hockey, while averaging more than 10 shots on goal per 60 minutes. Both of those numbers place him in the top-15 of the entire NHL (out of nearly 600 players with at least 500 minutes of ice-time).

And there is not really much to suggest it is a fluke or not sustainable. The shot volume is there, he has strong underlying numbers across the board, and a knack for getting to the net.

“One thing you notice about all the smaller players in the league that have success, they are all tenacious,” said Garland. “There are not many small perimeter players in the NHL. Obviously I don’t have a great shot so I have to get to the net.”

Even though the Coyotes have slumped over the past month (3-7-4 since January 9) they occupy a playoff spot in the Western Conference and have a promising core to build around. It’s a core that Garland has rapidly become part of.

He has spent the past 20 games playing on the Coyotes’ top line next to their big in-season addition, Taylor Hall, a duo that has developed an instant chemistry and been — by far — Arizona’s most dangerous line combination offensively. When they are together the Coyotes shot attempt and scoring chance share climb to over over 56 percent, while they average nearly three-and-a-half goals per 60 minutes, a massive increase over what the team produces when one (or neither) is on the ice.

“I don’t think he’s going to have a hard time building chemistry with anyone,” said Garland. “He can carry a line on his own. Sometimes he definitely does stuff that wows me. You can be thinking it’s time for a change and there’s nothing there, and then all of a sudden he breaks free and it’s a 3-on-2 for us. His raw speed, his power, his ability to handle the puck is just crazy.

“I just want to keep getting him the puck more and more and keep finding him. I think there’s more opportunities for me to find him, and that’s something I’m working on. I’m definitely fortunate to be able to play next to him.”

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.