The NHL's most underrated players -- according to their peers

ByEmily Kaplan ESPN logo
Tuesday, December 19, 2017

It's one of the oldest debates in sports: Who doesn't get enough credit? During the past five weeks, ESPN canvassed locker rooms to get the opinions of NHL players. It wasn't an easy exercise for some.

"How am I supposed to single out one player out of 700?" one player protested.

"OK, this is way harder than I thought it would be," said another player, who requested I come back to him in five minutes to give him a chance to think about it. (He still didn't have an answer when I returned).

For unvarnished honesty, we offered anonymity to discourage players from voting for teammates and offseason training buddies. Here are the results, beginning with a lot of gushing for an uber-skilled, 22-year-old, two-way forward in Sunrise, Florida:

Metropolitan Division forward: Panthers center Aleksander Barkov. "Guys in the smaller market sometimes they don't get the recognition they deserve. Barkov -- he's crazy. He's so good. He's so skilled."

Pacific Division defenseman: Barkov. "He's like really, really good, but he plays in Florida, so he gets no credit."

Central Division forward: Barkov. "He's a skill guy, but he also is a guy that can outmuscle you. He's like Anze Kopitar out there. I think he'd blow up if he was playing for a different market."

Metropolitan Division forward: Barkov. "Have you seen some of his shootout moves? I actually saw this video, I think I saw it on Twitter or Instagram or something, just putting together some highlights from him in the shootout. It's absurd."

Central Division defenseman: Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm. "He's a guy that doesn't get a ton of attention, but I think he's a really big piece of their puzzle. Obviously, they have some guys that do awesome things, like [Roman] Josi, but Ekholm is a guy that does everything well -- there's nothing he does bad. Even things he doesn't do really well, he still does well. And in my mind, that's what makes a great defenseman in this league."

Central Division goalie: Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo. "I don't think he gets enough press for how big of a role he plays for that team. He's a great defenseman. Obviously, I think people talk about him and what he's doing offensively, and people get too into his offensive numbers. But your first job is to play defense, and he does it just about as good as anyone in the league."

Central Division forward: Senators winger Mark Stone. "I don't really think he gets a lot of recognition, then when you watch him play -- he's really effective. He's always in the top of the league in takeaways, and then he's having a great year again this year for Ottawa; he's scoring a lot of goals."

Central Division forward: Stone. "I've played with him. He's pretty good offensively, pretty good defensively and just has good hockey sense."

Central Division defenseman: Blackhawks winger Artem Anisimov: "When you look at the Hawks' lineup, obviously you think of their big guns, but [Anisimov] is a really skilled player, and he's tough, too. I think he may lead their team in goals right now." (Editor's note: Anisimov is second on the team to Patrick Kane, with 13 goals.)

Central Division forward: Islanders center Anders Lee: "He's a 30-goal scorer, and nobody talks about him."

Metropolitan Division forward: Bruins center Patrice Bergeron. "We were actually just talking about this the other day. Honestly, Patrice Bergeron is really good. He hasn't lost a step; you always dread going up against him."

Pacific Division forward: Flames center Sean Monahan. "When you get their roster, the first guy you worry about is [Johnny] Gaudreau, then Monahan is probably right behind him. I mean, that line is really good. He's got a nice release. He scores a ton of goals for them. Just all around one of the better players in this league."

Central Division forward: Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson. "I don't know if he's underrated, but man, he's really good. He doesn't get much attention playing for the Coyotes, but he's really good."

Central Division defenseman: Ekman-Larsson. "He has elite offensive ability. I think he's just scratching the surface of what he can be. Sometimes you don't notice guys like that when they're playing for small-market clubs like Arizona. The market kind of hurts his visibility, but he's awesome."

Pacific Division forward: Ekman-Larsson. "If he's in New York or Toronto, people would be talking about him as the best defenseman in the league."

Central Division forward: Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford. "I don't think he gets as much attention as some of the other big-time goalies. He's one of the best, if not the best, night in and night out. Helps them win games and makes three or four ridiculous saves a night."

Metropolitan Division defenseman: Tampa Bay defenseman Anton Stralman. "He's been a good player in this league for a long time. Good offensive player, too. The only reason he probably doesn't get enough appreciation is because he plays on a team with [Victor] Hedman."

Central Division forward: Blues center Paul Stastny. "He gets sent out against [other teams'] top lines, and he's solid defensively, and he still puts up pretty good numbers. Overall, he's just a really sound player."

Central Division forward: Rangers center J.T. Miller. "He plays in New York, so I'm sure he gets a ton of media attention, so maybe he doesn't fit for your list. I was just watching one of their games, though, and I think he's come into his own this season. Solid player."