We all know the names of the superstars. Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and Connor McDavid will always be at the top of the league. But what about the teams without the star at the top? Who is the best underrated NHL Player this season?
The Best of the Next Tier: Underrated NHL Players
The criteria are simple, players who were leaders on their teams but aren’t considered superstars. No rookie can be used as they are truly unknown’s prior to the season. The list narrows quickly but we came up with few candidates.
For a team that pushed for a playoff spot for most of the season, the Carolina Hurricanes never really had a breakout star. That being said, Aho became a leader of the young Canes team.
After finishing his rookie season with 49 points (24 goals and 25 points) Aho was well on his way to being a big contributor to his team. But few expected him to take the steps forward he did this year. He led his team in almost every single offensive category. He put up 65 points with 29 goals, both team highs. He also led the team in powerplay goals and game winners. He ranked second among forwards in ice time and became a major part of the team’s top powerplay line.
While the Hurricanes were unable to have the season they hoped for, Aho’s increasing ability is a positive moving forward.
While many can argue the Couturier isn’t his teams MVP, he definitely played the role this year. The perennial 30-point man was never expected to take on a leading role this season. But little did we know.
Couturier put up a career year in every statistical category. He put up 31 goals, second on the Philadelphia Flyers behind Claude Giroux, 45 assists, fourth on the team, and six game-winning goals to lead the team. But he took on a leading role away from the scoring stats as well. Couturier was second on the team in ice time behind only defenseman Ivan Provorov. He also started 56.4% of the time in his own end, the most among forwards for his team. After becoming a well-rounded player Couturier was clearly an MVP candidate.
Vladimir Tarasenko may be the big name for the St. Louis Blues. This season though the leader of the Blues was none other than Brayden Schenn. Not only did Schenn lead the team in points with 70 but he also led the team in powerplay goals, powerplay points, game-winning goals and minutes by a forward. No other Blues forward had a season like Schenn and few can even come close to him.
But Schenn’s numbers go even deeper. He had a 54.6% corsi for rating at even strength, which put him fifth on the team. His ability to find his teammates was also a key as 42 assists led the team. If he can continue to play at this level next year he will be the obvious choice for MVP for the Blues next year.
Leading your team in every major offensive statistical category is impressive. Doing it for a new team is even more impressive. After arriving from the Chicago Blackhawks via trade this off-season Artemi Panarin put himself on the cusp of being a star from the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Breadman put up new career highs in assists (55) and points (82). It was the first time in his career that he averaged more than a point per game. Even more impressive he was doing it on a line with Pierre-Luc Dubois and Cam Atkinson instead of Patrick Kane. Panarin was so good that he also led the forward core in time on ice, averaging 20:08 minutes this season.
It could be debated that Panarin may already be a star, but he clearly was his team’s MVP this season.
No other player surprised to lead their team in points more this season than Rickard Rakell. The 24-year-old benefitted from top line minutes and showed he deserved them this year. He set new career highs in goals (34), assists (35), points (69) and powerplay points (18). That doesn’t even scratch the surface of what Rakell did.
With Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf battling injuries, Rakell stepped up. He helped keep the Ducks afloat in the always-difficult western conference. Once the big guns returned he continued to chip in and helped get the team into the playoffs.
He may be hidden in the Anaheim Ducks lineup behind the big names of Perry and Getzlaf but Rakell was clearly an MVP for his team.
After counting and recounting the votes (not really but humour us) the winner of the 2017-2018 Tier Two Hart Trophy for underrated MVP is… Sean Couturier. He may have been the only player on this list not to lead his team in points, but the MVP is so much more than that. What Couturier was able to do for the Flyers was so influential in their success that the trophy has to go to him.