J.T. Miller

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.

Devils trade Blake Coleman to Lightning for Foote, first-round pick

Blake Coleman Trade
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The for sale sign is officially up for the New Jersey Devils.

The team completed its second trade of the day on Sunday evening when it sent forward Blake Coleman to the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for prospect Nolan Foote and a conditional 2020 first-round draft pick that previously belonged to the Vancouver Canucks.

The Lightning originally acquired that pick from the Canucks over the summer in the J.T. Miller trade. If the Canucks fail to make the playoffs this season, they will hold on to the 2020 first-round pick and the Devils will then receive the Canucks’ 2021 first-round pick.

Just hours before sending Coleman to the Lightning, the Devils traded captain Andy Greene to the New York Islanders for David Quenneville and a second-round draft pick.

It’s a little surprising to see the Devils part with Coleman because he is one of their best players and is signed for one more season at a bargain salary cap hit of just $1.8 million. He is an excellent penalty killer and proven 20-goal scorer in the league. He is currently on track for 30 goals this season.

The only reason they were willing to part with him now: The Lightning were willing to pay a fairly steep price to get him. Along with the conditional first-round draft pick that belongs to Vancouver, the Devils are also getting Foote, the Lightning’s 2019 first-round draft pick (No. 27 overall). He is currently playing for the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League and is now going to be counted on to be part of the Devils’ future alongside recent top picks Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes.

The Devils could now be in a position to have three first-round draft picks this season. Along with their own, they also have a top-three protected pick from the Arizona Coyotes (Taylor Hall trade) and also the conditional pick from the Canucks.

As for the Lightning, this is a pretty big addition and makes an already dominant team that much deeper and stronger. They are already riding a 10-game winning streak entering the week.

Coleman is now one of five players on the Lightning (Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Alex Killorn, and Brayden Point) to already have 20 goals this season. Anthony Cirelli and Ondrej Palat could eventually get there as well.

MORE: PHT’s 2020 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker

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.

Revisiting 7 of the NHL’s biggest offseason trades

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With the first half of the 2019-20 NHL season complete and the trade deadline just a couple of weeks away we wanted to take a quick look back at seven of the biggest trades that were made during the offseason and how they have worked out.

Let’s dig in to them.

The Nazem KadriTyson Barrie trade

Toronto Maple Leafs received: Tyson Barrie, Alexander Kerfoot, 2020 sixth-round pick
Colorado Avalanche received: Nazem Kadri, Calle Rosen, 2020 third-round pick

How it’s worked: This is one of those trades where everyone is probably getting just what they thought they would get. And exactly what they wanted. Kadri gives the Avalanche a center to drive their second line, has been a huge part of their improved depth, and is scoring on a 30-goal pace (again) over 82 games. Barrie is under a far more intense microscope in Toronto, is the type of player that always be prone to criticism due to his style of play, and had a brutal start to the season. (Who didn’t on that team?) But he has looked like a completely different (and better) player under Sheldon Keefe than he did under Mike Babcock (who hasn’t?). Not sure how the Maple Leafs handle him and Jake Muzzin beyond this season (both free agents) but for right now it’s been a hockey trade where both teams benefitted.

The Phil Kessel trade

Pittsburgh Penguins received: Alex Galchenyuk, Pierre-Oliver Joseph
Arizona Coyotes received: Phil Kessel

How it’s worked: Nobody is winning it right now. This was always a weird trade from the Penguins’ perspective because they didn’t get the better player and they didn’t really save a ton of salary cap space. Kessel has been slightly more productive than Galchenyuk, but he’s definitely not Phil Kessel anymore. There’s no way the Coyotes are happy with four even-strength goals in 55 games. Galchenyuk, meanwhile, has just been a terrible fit with the Penguins. He works hard, he plays hard, he does his best, but it’s just not working. It will be a surprise if he remains with the team into March. The development of Joseph will make or break this trade for the Penguins, while the Coyotes have to hope Kessel has another big postseason in him.

The Jacob Trouba trade

New York Rangers received: Jacob Trouba
Winnipeg Jets received: Neal Pionk, 2019 first-round pick

How it’s worked: Probably not the way anybody expected it to work. Trouba was part of the Rangers’ big offseason and resulted in him getting a HUGE contract. He was also part of a mass exodus off of the Winnipeg blue line that also saw it lose Tyler Myers, Ben Chiarot, and — apparently — Dustin Byfuglien.

The twist here is that Pionk has  been the better player this season and one of the few bright spots on an otherwise bad defense. He has been the more productive player across the board offensively, while Trouba has quite literally had one of the worst defensive impacts of any player in the NHL. Granted, he’s playing on a dreadful defensive team, but he has not been good. Given his salary they are going to need a lot more. The Jets used that first-round pick to select Ville Heinola, a promising young defenseman that had an eight-game cup of coffee in the NHL to start the season and looked impressive.

The J.T. Miller trade

Vancouver Canucks received: J.T. Miller
Tampa Bay Lightning received: Marek Mazanec, 2019 third-round pick, conditional 2020 first-round pick

How it’s worked: The Lightning desperately needed to shed salary to get Brayden Point re-signed, and Miller was an obvious choice to go. It seemed like a risky move for the Canucks to give up a future first-round pick given where they were in their rebuild, but Miller has been one of their most impactful players, biggest game-changers and is helping to drive their run toward a Pacific Division title. An increased role and a bigger opportunity to shine is resulting a career year, and there is not much to suggest it is a fluke. As long as the Canucks make the playoffs and that first-round pick is in the bottom half of the round this is a win for the Canucks, and simply the cost of doing business for a cap-strapped Lightning team.

The P.K. Subban trade

New Jersey Devils received: P.K. Subban
Nashville Predators received: Steve Santini, Jeremy Davies, 2019 second-round pick, 2020 second-round pick

How it’s worked: The good news for the Devils is that they didn’t give up anything too valuable here. The bad news is Subban’s days as an elite player may be behind him and they still owe him $18 million over the next two years. It’s not that Subban has been bad, but he hasn’t been a $9 million per year player, either. It’s simply been a tough spot for a defenseman that plays his style to be in. The goaltending behind him has been bad, there isn’t a lot of forward talent around him, and the team as a whole has simply underwhelmed. Nashville, meanwhile, used its new salary cap space to sign Matt Duchene. He’s been fine, even if the team itself hasn’t.

The James NealMilan Lucic trade

Edmonton Oilers received: James Neal
Calgary Flames received: Milan Lucic

How it’s worked: “Our contract we don’t want for your bad contract you don’t want.” During the first month of the season this looked like it was going to be a laugher for the Oilers when Neal could not stop scoring goals, but he has just eight goals since Nov. 1 and has been a complete non-factor outside of the power play. Lucic has just been a non-factor. In the end, both players are exactly what we thought they were at this point in their careers, just in different sweaters.

The Justin Faulk trade

St. Louis Blues received: Justin Faulk, 2020 fifth-round draft pick
Carolina Hurricanes received: Joel Edmundson, Dominik Bokk, 2021 seventh-round draft pick

How it’s worked: After years of speculation and rumors the Hurricanes not only finally traded Faulk, but they sent him to the defending Stanley Cup champions. Faulk is the bigger name and the better player, but objectively speaking there has not been a huge difference in the performance of the two players this season, while the Hurricanes didn’t have to give Faulk the huge contract the Blues did. Bokk is an intriguing prospect (2018 first-round pick) for them, and they still have a pretty deep blue– and young — line to build around. Faulk still figures to be a huge part of the Blues going forward.

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.

NHL Power Rankings: Teams that need to be most active at trade deadline

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In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we take another look ahead to the trade deadline (Feb. 24, 3 p.m. ET) and the teams that are in most need of a move.

Some teams need some help just to get in the playoffs.

Others need the missing piece to take them from a playoff team to a Stanley Cup contender.

We are trying to focus on teams that have a chance to make the playoffs and be potential buyers.

Important to note, just to avoid any confusion: This is NOT a ranking of team quality or which team is playing best. It is strictly a ranking of which team is need of making a trade to add to its roster over the next few weeks. We take an occasional break from simply ranking team performance. This is one of those times. 

To the rankings!

Bubble teams with most pressing needs

• New York Islanders. Their overall record looks great, but the Islanders have been an average (at best) team for two months now and are still in desperate need of offense. Lou Lamoriello has made just one trade in his year-and-a-half with the team (he acquired Matt Martin not long after he was hired) and it’s time for him to add to his roster.

• Edmonton Oilers. With the Pacific Division being as weak as it is with no clear-cut favorite at the moment there is actually manageable path here for the Oilers to make a deep run in the playoffs. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl can take over any game and win it by themselves, but they can’t do it by themselves every single night. Get them some forward help and finally make something out of the best scoring duo in the league.

• Florida Panthers. Sergei Bobrovsky is taking all of the blame for their goal prevention issues, but the defense bleeds shots and chances against. If they shore that up a little Panthers fans would have reason to be excited.

• Toronto Maple Leafs. They could use a backup goalie upgrade to take some of the workload off of Frederik Andersen. They could also use a defensive upgrade.

• Columbus Blue Jackets. They do not have the trade assets to go all in like they did a year ago, but a little extra offense would go a long way.

• Vegas Golden Knights. Like Toronto, some goaltending depth would be significant for the stretch run of the regular season. They could also use an upgrade to their blue line.

• Carolina Hurricanes. The Dougie Hamilton injury creates a pretty big hole on their blue line. Maybe a spot for Sami Vatanen here?

Contenders that could use some extra help

• St. Louis Blues. They’ve found more offense than I expected them to without Vladimir Tarasenko, but they are in the market for a top-six winger. That could put them over the top for a repeat run in the West.

• Pittsburgh Penguins. You know Jim Rutherford is going to make a trade. He just is. It is what he does. He always does. The only question is whether he adds a top-line winger to replace Jake Guentzel, or if he adds some depth to his fourth line, or makes a tweak to his defense. He might even do all three.

• Colorado Avalanche. The X-factor in the West because they could do pretty much anything they want with their trade assets and salary cap space. When you have a window to win the Stanley Cup you owe it to yourself, your players, and your fans to go for it. That window is there for the Avalanche, and they have the long-term salary flexibility to add someone that is not just a rental.

• Dallas Stars. As long as their goaltending holds up they will be a tough out, but they need more offense.

• Boston Bruins. A depth move or two along the same lines as the Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson additions last year would seem to be in order here.

Teams that need to figure out what they are

• Chicago Blackhawks. Stan Bowman needs to decide if his bubble team is good enough to add to right now and if he wants to risk losing Robin Lehner and/or Erik Gustafsson for nothing this offseason. They are in the playoff race, but not enough of a lock to be a true buyer.

• Calgary Flames. They weren’t as good as their record looked a year ago, but they are probably not as bad as their current record. The lack of a true contender in their division might push them to make a move.

• Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers’ trade deadline plans might depend on which version of the team shows up over the next two weeks.

• Nashville Predators. If they figure out the special teams and get in the playoffs this could be a team that goes on a run. But they put themselves in quite a hole that getting there is going to be a struggle and have some pending free agents. They are in that middle ground between buyer and seller. The next few games will dictate where this goes.

Is there room for another move?

• Arizona Coyotes. They already made their big move — Taylor Hall — and a lot of people that aren’t paying attention to their situation may not realize just how close they are to the salary cap. Do they have the flexibility — and the resources after adding Hall — to make another move? Seems like this is the roster they will sink or swim with this season.

• Vancouver Canucks. They do not have a lot of salary cap space, their first-round pick (assuming they make the playoffs) is going to Tampa Bay as a result of the J.T. Miller trade, and for as good as they have been they still need to keep their eyes on the bigger, long-term picture. Their options are very limited.

Really now, what do these teams actually need?

• Tampa Bay Lightning. On paper this is still one of the most complete rosters in the league. They could always tweak something at the bottom of the lineup, but there is nothing here that is a major need.

• Washington Capitals. The biggest (and maybe only) question with the Capitals right now is the fact Braden Holtby may not be very good anymore and is a question mark going into the playoffs. The good news is his replacement (Ilya Samsonov) is already on the roster and looks to be outstanding.

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.

How the Canucks climbed to top of Pacific Division

For the first time in five years Vancouver Canucks fans have reason to be excited about their team. They are the hottest team in the NHL right now, and with their 3-1 win over the St. Louis Blues on Monday night are 12-3-0 over their past 15 games. That run has helped them climb to the top of the Pacific Division and put them in a position where they have a very good chance to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2014-15 season.

While it is true that the Pacific Division is very watered down this season — especially with the struggles of Vegas and San Jose — the Canucks still have something building here. They are exciting, they can score, and as of Monday have the third-best goal differential in the Western Conference.

Let’s take a look at what is driving their success so far this season.

Quinn Hughes has been better than advertised

Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser are the young cornerstones at forward, but Hughes is the player that’s really helped get this rebuild running in the right direction.

He may not win the Calder Trophy as the league’s rookie of the year, but he is almost certainly going to be Vancouver’s third straight finalist (following Boeser and Pettersson) as he competes with fellow rookie defenseman Cale Makar (Colorado Avalanche) for that crown. He’s already a 20-minute per night defenseman and fills one of the single biggest needs the Canucks have had the past couple of years — a young, impactful, top-pairing defenseman to lead their blue line. He’s the type of player that as soon as you watch him you know he’s going to be a star with the way he skates, moves the puck, and contributes to the offense.

But what’s really made him such a valuable piece is that he is able to do all of that while still being the team’s best defensive defenseman as a 20-year-old rookie. When he is on the ice during 5-on-5 play this season the Canucks are allowing the following:

  • 52.3 shot attempts per 60 minutes
  • 28.2 shots on goal per 60 minutes
  • 2.24 expected goals against per 60 minutes
  • 27.4 scoring chances per 60 minutes
  • 2.24 goals against per 60 minutes

Those numbers not only place him first among all Canucks defenders in every category, he is first by a significant margin in all of them.

(Data via Natural Stat Trick)

J.T. Miller has been the perfect support player

It’s been no secret the past two years that Boeser and Pettersson were the two players driving the bus for the Canucks offensively, and they still are.

It’s also no secret that two players alone can not carry a team on their own. And while the Canucks still have some depth concerns, Miller has been everything the Canucks could have hoped for him to be and more.

They raised some eyebrows when they traded a future first-round draft pick to the Tampa Bay Lightning for him, but it’s hard to argue with the results right now.

He is in the middle of a career year and currently on pace for more than 30 goals and 70 points, while also being one of the best possession-driving forwards in the entire league.

They paid a steep price, and the trade definitely carried some risk, but he is signed long-term, at a fair price, and has been a perfect fit within the core, while also being young enough to be a part of that core in future seasons. I was not a huge fan of the move at the time, but at some point you have to start adding talent to make your rebuild actually get somewhere. The Canucks have done that here.

Jacob Markstrom has been a rock in net

Markstrom hasn’t been one of the league’s elites in net, but he has been a rock solid starter since taking over that position in Vancouver. He may not steal a ton of games, but he’s not losing many games for them, either. He’s been a steady, and durable goalie that has consistently given them better-than-league average play the past few years. He has been even better this season.

While Hughes has been an immediate sensation on the blue line, this team still has its flaws defensively and gives up its share of shots and chances. They’re not yet a championship-level defensive team, and that makes quality goaltending even more vital for their chances. Markstrom is giving them that, and in the process is playing his way toward what could be a pretty significant raise this offseason.

MORE:
NHL Power Rankings: Looking at top Stanley Cup Contenders
The 6 coaches and general managers that can impact NHL playoff race
The 10 players that can impact NHL playoff race

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.