Nico Hischier

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 selling with the NHL trade deadline approaching

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NEWARK, N.J. — With the NHL trade deadline a week away, the New Jersey Devils may as well have a giant “for sale” sign hanging outside the dressing room.

Interim general manager Tom Fitzgerald gave a clear indication the Devils are ready to unload when he shipped defenseman and captain Andy Greene and forward Blake Coleman in separate deals Sunday for prospects and draft picks.

With New Jersey looking at a potential second straight bottom-five finish, expect Fitzgerald to move more players.

“I’m guessing my phone will ring a little more now because of what I did,” Fitzgerald said Sunday evening. “But I’m not looking to get rid of players. I’m looking to really move the organization, continue moving forward. And there are players here that will do that and help us.”

Fitzgerald said there are several players he will not trade. Centers Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes, the No. 1 overall selections in 2017 and ‘19, respectively, are untouchable, as is rookie goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood, who has 19 of the team’s 22 wins. Centers Pavel Zacha and Travis Zajac, who has a no-trade clause he is not going to waive, also are staying.

The rest of the roster seems to be on the market. The most interesting players on that list are forwards Kyle Palmieri and Wayne Simmonds and defensemen Will Butcher and Sami Vatanen.

Palmieri is the best player. He has a team-high 22 goals and is a legit top line forward who is good on the power play. Simmonds has struggled in his first season in New Jersey with seven goals, but he remains a net-front presence.

Vatanen, 28, is in the final year of his contract and will become an unrestricted free agent after the season. He is currently on injured reserve with a foot injury so that would have to heal if he is to be moved.

The 25-year-old Butcher has slipped a little in each of the past two campaigns after having a 44-point season as a rookie.

Defense is the area the Devils need to improve. They have given up 204 goals, which is third worst in the league.

New Jersey has some young players who might be ready soon. Kevin Bahl, who was acquired in the December deal with Arizona for Taylor Hall, and former first-round pick Ty Smith have had very good seasons in junior hockey.

The deal that shipped Coleman to Tampa Bay on Sunday night gave the Devils a couple of assets. They picked up a first-round draft pick this year that belonged to Vancouver and prospect forward Nolan Foote.

Foote could be the find. The 6-foot-4 son of former NHL defenseman Adam Foote, has all the tools at 19 years old.

“I saw him in the summer at the world junior camp and was impressed with his size and hands around the net and definitely the shot,” Fitzgerald said. “So those type of players don’t grow on trees, so when that’s being offered to you, you have to think.”

If Vancouver makes the playoffs and Arizona does not get a top three pick in the draft lottery, their first-round picks will go to the Devils, giving them three in what is considered a good draft.

The problem is New Jersey has a long way to go. It has made the playoffs once since going to the Finals in 2012. Its coach, Alain Nasreddine, and general manager have interim tags.

Ownership has shown little patience this season. John Hynes was fired as coach in early December and Ray Shero was fired as general manager a month later.

“I don’t think we’re going to snap our fingers and next year we’re going to be contending for a Stanley Cup, or the year after,” Fitzgerald said.

New Jersey has three pillars for the future in Hischier, Hughes and Blackwood, and some young players with potential.

“If I can add things in the summer, I don’t see why this team can’t be competitive and scratch and claw to that point of playoffs (next season), but continue to grow it the right way,” Fitzgerald said.

MORE: PHT’s 2020 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker

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.

NHL Fantasy Hockey: Cirelli, DeBrusk lead this week’s top adds

Welcome to our weekly Adds/Drops column, where I focus on highlighting players you should consider grabbing or be concerned about in fantasy leagues. As always, the goal here isn’t to recommend 10 players you must add and five players that need to be dropped. Context is everything and the context of each league is different. What this is instead is a guideline so that if you’re looking to make a change, you have potential players to target and if you see players I’ve suggested to drop, you can evaluate your potential alternates.

Players Worth Adding

Zach Sanford, Blues – C/LW: Sanford recorded just 20 points in 60 games last season, but he averaged a modest 12:35 minutes. Through Jan. 9th, he had three goals and 10 points in 32 contests in 2019-20, but again his ice time was low at an average of 12:26. Over his last eight games though, his playing time has increased to 14:05 minutes per game and he’s scored three goals and nine points over that span. It certainly helps that he’s been regularly skating on a line with Ryan O'Reilly and David Perron. Sanford is still playing above his head right now and it’s questionable if he’ll be worth owning in standard leagues after this hot streak is over, but there is the potential for him to surprise people the rest of the way if he does keep getting decent minutes.

Kailer Yamamoto, Oilers – RW/LW: This isn’t the first time Yamamoto has been called up, but this is looking like the time he sticks with the Oilers. He has been so good with five goals and 10 points in 11 contests with Edmonton this season. Yamamoto has been highly regarded for a while, it’s just taken a bit of time for him to develop and now that he has, he could be a great offensive force going forward. He’s only owned in 10% of Yahoo leagues, so in most cases it’s not too late to take a chance on him.

Jake DeBrusk, Bruins – LW/RW: Debrusk is one of those players who isn’t quite worth owning all the time in standard leagues, but he’s not far off. He’s been solid offensively with 17 goals and 32 points in 48 games and his eligibility on both wings gives fantasy owners a nice amount of flexibility when it comes to using him. He’s just maybe a hair less productive than the low end of what you’d typically want on your team. As an injury stopgap measure though, he’s pretty much the ideal. If you’re hunting your free agent market for hot players, he also works there after scoring an impressive six goals and 12 points over his last 10 games.

Oliver Bjorkstrand, Blue Jackets – LW/RW: Bjorkstrand was red hot with five goals and seven points in his last four games when he suffered a rib/cartilage contusion and an oblique strain that cost him four-to-six weeks. He returned on Jan. 19th and picked up right where he left off with another five goals and six points in his last four contests. At this point he has 17 goals and 29 points despite being limited to 40 games. He managed to score 23 goals in 2018-19 even though he was averaging just 12:20 minutes, so now that he’s getting 17:28 minutes per game, it’s not shocking to see him be such a significant goal scorer. He’s owned in 41% of Yahoo leagues and there should be use for him on teams in many of the leagues where he’s still available.

Zach Hyman, Maple Leafs – C/LW: Hyman couldn’t make his season debut until Nov. 13th and it took him a while to get going offensively with two goals and three points in his first 10 games. That’s partially masked how big of a threat he’s been for a while now. From Dec. 4th onward, Hyman has shined with 12 goals and 22 points in 23 games. In spite of that, Hyman is still owned in just 25% of leagues. That’s somewhat understandable given that in previous seasons he’s been good, but not great offensively and the high powered Maple Leafs’ offense features far bigger names who get most of the attention, but at this point, picking up Hyman is worthy of serious consideration.

Jesper Bratt, Devils – LW/RW: Bratt was having a pretty quiet season with six goals and nine points in 27 contests before Taylor Hall was dealt to the Arizona Coyotes. Since the trade though, he’s seen an uptick in responsibilities and his production has climbed up along with it. He went from averaging 13:12 minutes before the trade to 15:07 minutes over his last 13 contests. Over that recent span he has three goals and 10 points in 13 games. Bratt has been playing alongside Nico Hischier and Kyle Palmieri, who were Hall’s former linemates, so it has been a case of Bratt getting a nice opportunity as a result of the trade.

Kevin Hayes, Flyers – C: Hayes has been a hot-and-cold player this season. That combined with his center-only eligibility makes him a tough sell as a player to pick up and hold long-term. If you’re interested in short-term pickups though, you can attempt to strategically grab and drop him. In that regard, this might be a good time to consider him because it looks like he’s at the beginning of a new hot streak with two goals and five points in his last four games, including a three-point showing on Saturday.

Nick Suzuki, Canadiens – C/RW: The Calder Trophy conversation right now is basically Quinn Hughes versus Cale Makar – and for good reason, those two defensemen have had excellent campaigns. That said, there a few rookie forwards who have been standing out too and one of them is Suzuki. With 10 goals and 33 points in 54 games this season, he ranks fourth in the rookie scoring race. He’s had some prolonged cold streaks, such as his recent stretch from Dec. 31-Jan. 18 of just two goals and four points in 11 games, but he’s also had some really great runs and he’s on one right now with a goal and six points in his last four games.

Tyler Ennis, Senators – LW/RW: Ennis is having his best season in years with 13 goals and 30 points in 52 contests thanks in part to him having a significantly bigger role with Ottawa than he did in Toronto or Minnesota. He’s still been somewhat hot-and-cold, so he’s not a great option all the time, but right now he’s enjoying one of his hot streaks with two goals and five points in his last five games.

Anthony Cirelli, Lightning – C: From Jan. 14th onward, Cirelli has been one of the league’s top performers with four goals and 10 points in seven games. Of course, he’s been pretty good all season with 13 goals and 37 points in 51 games. His center-only eligibility is his biggest knock at this point, but even with that in mind, you could do worse than having him on your team long-term.

Players You May Want To Drop

Cam Atkinson, Blue Jackets – RW: Atkinson had an amazing run of eight goals and 12 points in 11 contests, but that’s behind him now. He hasn’t gotten a point in any of his last four games, even as the Blue Jackets as a squad continue to excel. Atkinson is a player worth always keeping an eye on because when he’s at his best, he’s superb, but I think for some owners it’s okay to risk exposing him to the free agent pool during the stretches where he’s not producing.

James Neal, Oilers – LW/RW: Neal has a foot injury right now, but that might not end up being a significant injury. Even if you take that out as a factor though, Neal just hasn’t done that much. He had that amazing run of 11 goals in his first 14 games, but he’s found the back of the net just eight times in the 36 games that followed and that’s even with his hat trick on Dec. 31st. He hasn’t even really had a meaningful hot streak since October. Neal will almost certainly find his way back to the 20-goal milestone after falling well short of that in 2018-19, but that’s mostly just thanks to that hot start. If you missed out on that, there hasn’t been much benefit to owning Neal this season.

Alex Killorn, Lightning– LW/RW: With 20 goals and 40 points in 50 games, Killorn has already set a new career-high in goals and matched his 2018-19 points total. He’s never recorded more than 47 points in a single season, so it’s not at all hard to believe that this will be the 30-year-old’s best campaign to date. That said, he’s largely riding on his early success at this stage. From Nov. 18-Dec. 31 he was playing like an elite with 13 goals and 28 points in 23 games, but since then he has five goals and six points in 14 contests, including just three points in his last nine contests. Even if you decide against dropping him right now because, again, his season overall has been spectacular, you should keep a critical eye on him over the next couple weeks. It’s entirely plausible that his best days of the 2019-20 campaign are behind him.

Tomas Hertl, Sharks – C/LW: This one is more of just a reminder of the unfortunate. Hertl suffered a torn ACL/MCL on Wednesday and he won’t play again this season as a result, so dropping him if you’re in a single season league is a no brainer. I would however like to take this time to encourage you to keep him in mind when it comes to fantasy drafts for 2020-21. He was underperforming a little – along with the Sharks as a team – before the injury so that combined with his season being cut short could lead to him slipping in drafts next season. You might get very good value for selecting him as a result.

Anthony Duclair, Senators – LW/RW: Duclair is having a strong season with 21 goals and 34 points in 51 contests. The catch is that most of his production has been the result of a couple big hot streaks. He had five goals and eight points in eight games from Oct. 23-Nov. 9 and another 11 goals and 15 points in 10 games from Dec. 3-21. Since his latest hot streak, he’s been limited to just four assists in 14 games. Feel free to drop him for now and just keep an eye out for his next big run.

If you’re looking for fantasy hockey information, Rotoworld is a great resource. You can check the player news for the latest information on any player and insight into their fantasy outlook.

Every week Michael Finewax looks ahead at the schedule and offers team-by-team notes in The Week Ahead. I have a weekly Fantasy Nuggets column where I basically talk about whatever’s captured my attention that week. Gus Katsaros does an Analytics columns if you want to get into detailed statistical analysis. If you’re interested in rookies and prospects, there’s a weekly column on that written by McKeen’s Hockey.

For everything fantasy hockey, check out Rotoworld’s Player News, and follow @Rotoworld_ HK and @RyanDadoun on Twitter.

NHL Trade Deadline: Non-UFAs who could move

NHL Trade Deadline
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The NHL trade deadline is just a few weeks away and we already have a pretty good idea as to which players are a good bet to be traded based on their contract situation (pending unrestricted free agents) and their current team’s place in the standings (out of the playoff picture with little hope of playing back into it).

Ottawa is almost certainly going to trade Jean-Gabriel Pageau.

The New York Rangers are probably going to trade Chris Kreider.

The Los Angeles Kings seem like a good bet to deal Tyler Toffoli.

Montreal should absolutely try to see what it can get for Ilya Kovalchuk following his brief offensive resurgence with the Canadiens.

These are the near-locks, as many pending UFA’s are on non-playoff teams. But every year there is always that surprising trade, usually one that involves in a player that still has term remaining on their contract. Last year it was Los Angeles trading Jake Muzzin and Minnesota trading Mikael Granlund.

Let’s take a look at some potential options this season.

Jason Zucker, Minnesota Wild

Contract remaining: Three more full seasons (through 2022-23 season) with a $5.5 million per year salary cap hit.

Why he could be moved: The already tried to move him (and very nearly did) on two different occasions over the past year. To be fair, that was a different general manager pulling those strings and it’s possible that Bill Guerin has a long-term vision that includes Zucker. But barring some kind of dramatic second half turnaround the Wild seem destined to miss the playoffs for a second straight year and shouldn’t be opposed to listening to offers on any player. One team that apparently has a lot of interest: Guerin’s former team, the Pittsburgh Penguins. They have a need for a top-six winger with Jake Guentzel sidelined, Zucker would be a fit with their style of play, and they were one of the teams that nearly acquired him when Paul Fenton seemed hellbent on trying to trade him.

What he might cost: Zucker’s not a star, but he is a fast, two-way player that is going to score 20 goals and 50 points every year while helping out on the defensive end. With still three years remaining the Wild should easily be able to get two or three assets for him if they decide to move on: First-round pick, a good prospect or young NHL player, and one lesser “throw in” asset (late round pick, fringe prospect).

(UPDATE: Zucker has been dealt to the Penguins for a package of Alex Galchenyuk, prospect Calen Addison, and a conditional first-round pick.)

Tomas Tatar, Montreal Canadiens

Contract remaining: One more full season (through 2020-21) with $5.3 million salary cap hit

Why he could be moved: The Canadiens are going nowhere this season and it could be a good opportunity to sell high on Tatar who has been simply outstanding in his season-and-a-half with the team. Since joining the Canadiens he has 43 goals and 104 points in 132 games, while also posting some of the best possession numbers in the entire league. Of the more than 660 players that have played at least 500 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey since the start of the 2018-19 season, Tatar ranks in the top-five in shot attempt share, scoring chance share, high-danger scoring chance share, expected goals share, and goal differential. Even going back to his Detroit days he is a near lock for 25 goals and is an outstanding possession driver.

What he might cost: We have some idea here because Tatar has been traded twice on this very same contract, including once at the deadline when a bad Detroit team traded him to a contender (Vegas) in 2017-18. Vegas gave up a first, second, and third round pick for him. Three assets. It was viewed as an overpayment at the time — and still is — but that’s not entirely fair. Had Tatar worked out in Vegas they would have had a top-line talent for what amounts to three low-ceiling lottery tickets. Unfortunately he got off to a slow start, never had a chance to prove himself over a full season, and was traded for Max Pacioretty (a trade that has worked out for Vegas).

Alec Martinez, Los Angeles Kings

Contract remaining: One more full season (through 2020-21) with a $4 million salary cap hit.

Why he could be moved: The Kings are one of the worst teams in the league and need to re-tool rapidly. Martinez is one of the few players on the team that might bring a decent return.

What he might cost: Los Angeles traded Jake Muzzin last season under almost the exact same circumstances — A bad Kings team trading a veteran defenseman with one year remaining with a $4 million salary cap hit. The only big difference is that Muzzin was 29 (vs. Martinez at age 32) and was having a better season. The Kings received a first-round pick and two prospects (Carl Grundstrom and Sean Durzi) for Muzzin. Given Martinez’s age and somewhat down season they probably shouldn’t expect quite as much, but the framework should be similar (draft pick and a prospect).

(UPDATE: Martinez has been dealt to the Golden Knights in exchange for second-round picks in 2020 and 2021.)

Kyle Palmieri, New Jersey Devils

Contract remaining: One more full season (through 2020-21) with a $4.65 million salary cap hit

Why he could be moved: The Devils have been a spectacular disappointment this season, still seem to be several pieces away from contending, and outside of their pending free agents don’t really have many realistic trade options that can bring a return. Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes are the untouchables. P.K. Subban‘s value has to be at an all-time low given his performance this season and remaining contract. Travis Zajac and Andy Greene have complete no-trade clauses, with Zajac reportedly declining a trade already this year.

Palmieri is a really good player, but turns 29 on Saturday, will be 30 when he starts his next contract, and only has a limited no-trade clause, making it easier to deal him. As good as he is, he might have more trade value to the Devils right now than he does as a player for them beyond this season. They’re probably not a playoff team next season whether he plays for them or not.

What he might cost: Very similar to the Zucker/Tatar price. Tatar and Zucker are both probably better overall players, but there is a lot to be said for Palmieri’s ability to put the puck in the net. He’s averaged a 30-goal pace per 82 games with the Devils (a lousy offensive team during his time with the team) and still has another full year remaining on his deal. A first-round pick and a good prospect seems like a must-have starting point for the Devils.

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.