Jonathan Huberdeau

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.

First-period outburst propels Flyers past Panthers

The Philadelphia Flyers will need to improve their play on the road in order to remain in the thick of the Eastern Conference Playoff race.

A three-goal first period propelled the Flyers to a 6-2 win against the Florida Panthers at BB&T center. Carter Hart made 26 saves and captured his first road victory since November.

James van Riemsdyk had a goal and two assists as Philadelphia improved to 9-3-1 over its past 13 games. Tyler Pitlick, Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Scott Laughton, Sean Couturier and Robert Hagg also scored.

Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov each scored in the third period, but the Panthers fell to the Flyers for the second time this week. Sergei Bobrovsky exited at the end of the first period after allowing three goals on nine shots. He’s 0-4-1 in his past five starts.

Hart stopped the bleeding

The Panthers scored twice in the first five minutes of the third period to cut the Flyers’ lead in half, but Hart’s biggest save of the night came shortly after when he denied Evgenii Dadonov.

The Flyers have struggled on the road immensely this season and a loss on Thursday could have had a demoralizing effect on the team’s confidence.

While Hart has had his own issues away from home, the 21-year-old showed why the organization believes he has not only the talent, but the mental toughness to be a franchise goaltender.

The adjustment to the NHL is a challenge for any young player. But, a key a third-period save provided a moment of confidence for Hart to look back on and know he has the ability to accomplish anything between the pipes.

NOTE: Shayne Gostisbehere took part in the morning skate, but the defenseman missed his fourth consecutive game.


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.

Panthers finally giving fans reason for optimism

The Florida Panthers not only gave head coach Joel Quenneville a win in his first return to Chicago on Tuesday night, they extended their winning streak to six games and roll into the All-Star break and bye week as one of the NHL’s hottest teams.

They are also in the rather unfamiliar territory of having a strong hold on a playoff spot this late in the season.

The Panthers are just one point back of the Tampa Bay Lightning for second place in the Atlantic Division while also owning a four-point cushion over the Toronto Maple Leafs. It obviously doesn’t lock them into anything, but it has to be a pleasant change of pace after slow starts the previous two years all but crushed their playoff hopes by the All-Star break.

It’s also a big step in the right direction for an organization that needs to earn the trust of its fanbase and give people in their market a reason to finally care about them. As we detailed back in August, this has been the least successful organization in terms of playoff success since the start of 2000 across the NHL and NBA. Overall, they have made the playoffs just five times in 25 years and have only won three playoff series ever — all of them coming during one improbable playoff run during the 1995-96 season.

In recent years we’ve seen teams come out of nowhere after years of struggle to go on deep playoff runs. Two years it was the Winnipeg Jets, after never winning a playoff game in the first 17 years of their existence, going to the Western Conference Final. A year ago it was the Carolina Hurricanes snapping a nine-year postseason drought and going to the Eastern Conference Final.

There is at least some reason to believe the Panthers could be capable of going on a similar run this season.

The offense is legit

Pop quiz: Who is the NHL’s highest scoring team right now? Toronto? Pittsburgh? Washington? Tampa Bay? Colorado? All good guess, and all wrong. It’s the Florida Panthers, averaging a league-best 3.83 goals per game as of Wednesday.

Leading the way is their outstanding top-line duo of Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau. Individually, they have each been top-10 scorers in the NHL over the past three seasons and together they are one of the best top-line duos in the league, producing goals at a rate similar to some of the league’s best.

But it’s not just them that drive the offense.

Thanks to Frank Vatrano‘s hat trick on Tuesday, the Panthers already have seven players with at least 14 goals this season, most in the league. There are only six other teams in the league that have more than four (Vancouver has six; Colorado, Vegas, Washington, and Winnipeg all have five each).

Goaltending can still be the big difference maker here

This is probably the wildest part of Florida’s success.

Goaltending was by far their biggest area of need this offseason and they addressed it by delivering a dump truck full of money to Sergei Bobrovsky. Bobrovsky had been one of the NHL’s best goalies during his time in Columbus and on more than one occasion helped carry the team to the playoffs. The Panthers’ hope was that he could be their new No. 1 goalie, solidify the position, and be the missing piece to finally get them back in the playoffs.

The Panthers may end up back in the playoffs, but right now it is in spite of their goaltending.

As of Wednesday the Panthers sit 27th in the league in 5-on-5 save percentage and 25th in all situations save percentage. Typically teams with goaltending like this do not make the playoffs, or even have a chance to make the playoffs. Out of the bottom-15 teams in overall save percentage right now, Florida and Vegas are the only two teams holding a playoff spot.

On one hand, this might be their undoing in the second half if Bobrovsky can’t get back on track.

On the other hand, if he DOES get back on track the Panthers could be a dangerous team to deal with. There was always risk with giving a 31-year-old goalie a seven-year, $70 million contract, but his career shouldn’t fall off a cliff this quickly. His first half in Florida has been similar to his first half performance in Columbus a year ago. He finished last season by catching fire in February, March, and April and not only helped the Blue Jackets make the playoffs, but also sweep one of the best regular season teams in NHL history. He still has that ability.

They could still use some help on defense

While Bobrovsky has definitely struggled, it would be unfair to put all of the Panthers’ goal prevention problems on just him. Because there are some issues in front of him.

The Panthers have invested a ton of money and resources on their blue line but the results have not yet followed. In terms of shot attempts against, shots against, scoring chances and expected goals the Panthers are no better than average (and in some cases near the bottom of the league). That’s something that is going to have to be addressed, but the salary cap situation will not make it easy.

Big picture: The Panthers have some flaws, and right now might have to get through Tampa Bay and Boston in rounds 1 and 2 in a potential playoff run, but there is reason for optimism here. They have the highest scoring team in the league, the eighth best points percentage in the league, and have done that with some of the worst goaltending in the league. A tweak or two on the blue line and Bobrovsky rediscovering his ability to stop pucks and there might be something interesting brewing here.

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.

The Buzzer: Devils end Lightning winning streak; Predators shut out Jets

Andy Greene #6 of the New Jersey Devils is congratulated by his teammates after scoring a goal
Getty Images

Three Stars

1) Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers

The Atlantic Division playoff race will be fascinating down the stretch. The Panthers captain tallied a goal and two assists as Florida skated to an entertaining 8-4 victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Barkov’s goal in the opening period was not anything spectacular, but his assist in the second period to set up Frank Vatrano was impressive. Barkov batted a puck out of mid-air as he intercepted a pass then raced up ice to set up Vatrano to extend the Panthers’ lead to 5-0 at the time.

2) Andy Greene, New Jersey Devils

Every individual has their own leadership style or opts to use different methods depending on the situation. Greene implemented a lead-by-example process when he clobbered a one-timer in the Devils’ 3-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Devils have been a huge disappointment this season and fired their general manager Ray Shero shortly before puck drop. Expect New Jersey to sell off several pieces as the NHL Trade Deadline approaches.

3) Juuse Saros, Nashville Predators

John Hynes collected his second victory behind the bench with the Predators when Saros made 28 saves for his first shutout of the season. Practice time is severely limited in this day and age, but Hynes is starting to implement his defensive philosophy. The Predators have not played up to expectations this season but are within striking distance if Hynes can get the most out of his players.

Highlights of the Night

Huberdeau ties Olli Jokinen for the most points in franchise history with a nifty deke. He would later add an assist to become the Panthers’ all-time points leader.

Barkov displayed his incredible hand-eye coordination on this interception at the blueline and then added an assist at the other end of the ice.

Sabres defenseman Zach Bogosian shows off his ability to stickhandle

Stats of the Night

Scores

Nashville Predators 1, Winnipeg Jets 0

Vancouver Canucks 4, Minnesota Wild 1

Buffalos Sabres 5, Detroit Red Wings 1

Pittsburgh Penguins 4, Arizona Coyotes 3 (SO)

Florida Panthers 8, Toronto Maple Leafs 4

New Jersey Devils 3, Tampa Bay Lightning 1

Huberdeau sets Panthers record; Malkin ties Jagr for Penguins mark

Jonathan Huberdeau #11 of the Florida Panthers celebrates
Getty Images

Jonathan Huberdeau surpassed Olli Jokinen for the most points in Florida Panthers history Sunday with a goal and an assist in Florida’s 8-4 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The 26-year-old from Saint-Jerome, Quebec has recorded 420 points (143 goals, 277 assists) in 512 games as a member of the Panthers.

Florida selected Huberdeau with the third-overall selection of the 2011 NHL draft after the forward played for the Saint John Sea Dogs in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

Huberdeau set the record with an assist on Mike Hoffman’s power-play goal early in the third period. He also added a goal of his own midway through the second period when he made a nifty move to his backhand to beat Michael Hutchinson.

He currently leads the team with 61 points and is on pace to surpass his career high of 92 points set last season.

Malkin Passes Jagr

The Penguins alternate captain did not wait long to pass Jaromir Jagr’s 640 assists on the franchise’s all-time list. He tied the mark Friday against Colorado and hit 642 assists by recording two Sunday as the Penguins collected their third straight victory on the road in an eight-round shootout win against the Arizona Coyotes.

Malkin officially passed Jagr with the secondary assist on Jared McCann’s opening goal. He would later set up Patric Hornqvist early in the middle frame when the Penguins took a 2-1 lead.