Ryan Ellis

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.

Predators’ Roman Josi fined $5,000 for cross-checking Corey Perry

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The NHL Department of Player Safety announced on Sunday that Nashville Predators defenseman Roman Josi has been fined $5,000 for cross-checking Dallas Stars forward Corey Perry during Saturday’s game.

The Predators and Perry have a bit of a history this season. It was Perry’s hit on Ryan Ellis in the Winter Classic that sidelined the defenseman for a significant chunk of the season. Perry was ejected from that game and suspended for five games.

This particular incident happened in front of the Nashville net and began with Perry giving Josi a slash on the back of the leg. Josi then turned around cross-checked him in the head.

You can see the sequence in the video above.

Josi was given a two-minute for high-sticking on the play.

The Predators and Stars played two games over the past three days with the Predators winning both thanks to back-to-back shutouts from Juuse Saros. Ellis also scored the lone goal for the Predators on Saturday.

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.

Seeking revenge against Corey Perry could backfire for Predators

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On the list of things to do against the Stars on Thursday, you’d think the Predators would rank “get revenge against Corey Perry for his hit on Ryan Ellis” pretty low. The Predators have bigger catfish to fry, basically.

Ellis said he is not “bitter” about Perry hit

Given more than a month to reflect on the hit from the 2020 Winter Classic, Ellis himself downgraded talk of bitterness on Feb. 20.

“To be honest, it’s a hockey play. I’m not bitter at him,” Ellis said. “Obviously, I’d like to catch him with a nice open-ice hit as I would anyone on any other team. But it’s a hockey player, I get where he was at, I get what he was thinking. It looks bad. … But I’m not bitter. It sucks not playing.”

So, as Ellis said, he’d be glad to “catch him with a nice open-ice hit,” but it doesn’t sound like the defenseman will strain to go after Perry. That’s smart. Maybe it also helps that Perry sat through a five-game suspension for his actions.

Predators can’t afford to risk losses to get revenge on Perry

To be frank, there are also other thoughts likely on the forefront of Ellis’ mind, and that of the Predators.

In the most human way, the Predators certainly have the devastation of the Nashville-area tornadoes on their minds. That seemed to be the topic of discussion for Ellis & Co., and rightfully so.

Ellis downplaying winning the games has to push “revenge on Perry” down the ledger a bit, too, right?

Certainly, it would rank lower than getting some key wins.

[Push for the Playoffs provides a deeper look at races for the Predators and other NHL teams]

The Predators simply don’t have the luxury to settle grudges right now. You can see that in the standings above. Things look challenging when you glance at Nashville’s remaining schedule, particularly in the near future:

Mar. 5: vs. Dallas
Mar. 7: at Dallas
Mar. 10: at Montreal
Mar. 12: at Toronto
Mar. 14: at Columbus
Mar. 15: at Minnesota
Mar. 19: vs. Colorado
Mar. 21: vs. Philadelphia
Mar. 22: at Chicago
Mar. 24: vs. Winnipeg
Mar. 26: vs. L.A.
Mar. 28: at Arizona
Mar. 29: at Colorado
Apr. 1: vs. Montreal
Apr. 2: at Philadelphia
Apr. 4: vs. Minnesota

Looking at that schedule, it would be foolish to think: “Yes, take this opportunity to air your grievances on the way to the penalty box.”

If anything, the Predators should be focusing on performing better, and that goes all the way to the coaches.

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.

Predators’ Ellis ‘not bitter’ at Corey Perry after Winter Classic hit

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Ryan Ellis practiced again on Thursday and could return to the Predators’ lineup Friday night in Chicago.

The Predators defenseman has missed the last 20 games after suffering a concussion following an elbow to the head from Stars forward Corey Perry during the Winter Classic. Perry was suspended five games by the Department of Player Safety.

Ellis spoke after Thursday’s practice, where he was paired with Roman Josi, and said he had no hard feelings towards Perry.

“To be honest, it’s a hockey play. I’m not bitter at him,” Ellis said. “Obviously, I’d like to catch him with a nice open-ice hit as I would anyone on any other team. But it’s a hockey player, I get where he was at, I get what he was thinking. It looks bad. … But I’m not bitter. It sucks not playing.”

Perry spoke after the Winter Classic and explained that the hit was “unfortunate” and “unintentional.”

“It was an awkward play,” Perry said on New Year’s Day. “I went to the bench to get a stick and came back. I reached out to try to deflect the puck or whatever. It was unfortunate. I’ve played with Ryan before. I know him personally. It’s very unintentional. I didn’t mean to hurt him. I hope he’s OK. This is a big event. I’m sure he had family in here. I had some family here. It’s unfortunate. I just hope he’s OK.”

Whether Ellis plays against the Blackhawks will depend on how his body responds to his practice participation. Head coach John Hynes said they’ll have a better idea after Friday’s morning skate.

“We wanted to push him today in practice, put him on a D-pair and play in the situations he could possibly play in,” Hynes said.

The Predators are three points out of a wild card spot and have won three of their last four. They have plenty of ground to make up in the Western Conference playoff picture and getting one of their top defenseman back helps .

“It was a long road and I haven’t been down one like that, so it’s nice to be feeling like myself,” Ellis said. “It’s not like a typical injury, it’s one day good and one day bad, you never know what the next one brings. It’s been a process and I’m glad to be feeling a bit better.”

MORE: PHT’s 2020 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker

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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.

PHT Morning Skate: Best fits for top trade targets; Bruins have room to work with

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Adam Gretz chooses ideal landing spots for top trade deadline targets. Chris Kreider making the Blues even more relentless? Yikes. (YardBarker)

• Gus Katsaros supplements that with an analytics-based look at those who have already been traded, and those who might move. (Rotoworld)

• Speaking of players who were already traded, Tyler Toffoli shares his experience hustling to join the Canucks. Yes, it involved sharing some joking texts with once-again-teammate Tanner Pearson. (Sportsnet)

• Breaking down how Brenden Dillon fits with the Capitals. Interesting point that while Dillon is prone to taking penalties, the Caps’ strong PK might mitigate that drawback. (Japers Rink)

• The Bruins possess healthy cap space, making a trade deadline move relatively simple by contender standards. They’d only need to juggle a bit if they landed a big-budget rental. (NBC Sports Boston)

• I’ve pondered how teams might practice “load management” with players plenty of times before. With that in mind, it’s nice to see a deeper discussion of the practice — or lack thereof — in the NHL. Dom Luszczyszyn discusses how parity makes NHL teams less likely to rest players than their NBA counterparts, but how smart hockey teams should explore similar tactics anyway. (The Athletic, sub required)

[MORE: PHT’s 2020 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker]

J.T. Miller has delivered at a staggering level for the Canucks on the ice. It turns out he’s elite when it comes to heartwarming gestures, too. (Canucks)

• Cycling back to Miller’s on-ice impact, The Point recently broke down his breakthrough. Sheng Peng discusses how well Miller gels with Canucks star Elias Pettersson. (The Point)

Braden Holtby has looked sharp lately. After struggling through much of this regular season, could Holtby be back on his game? (Nova Caps)

• Kim and Terry Pegula told Sabres GM Jason Botterill that they are not looking to hire a president of hockey operations. Botterill apparently said in the past that he prefers to report directly to ownership. All of that said, it’s not clear if the Pegulas might be looking for a new General Manager. (Buffalo News)

• Things were bad for Milan Lucic, particularly in November. With James Neal red-hot, people were making unkind comparisons. But even more directly, he found himself benched, and pondered retirement because the game just wasn’t fun anymore. Like a frosted tip, it seems like Lucic has his sparkle back at the moment, though. (Sporting News)

• Andrew Berkshire recently broke down the five best defensive pairings in the NHL, including Nashville’s Roman JosiRyan Ellis combo. (Sportsnet)

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.