They won’t win any awards. They aren’t star players on their own teams. But these six NHLers quietly had outstanding years.
We’ve almost reached the end of 2016-17’s regular season. Soon we’ll have a ton to discuss: the Stanley Cup playoffs, the expansion draft, the NHL award recipients, the entry draft and free agency. So now feels like a good time to raise a virtual glass to some of the game’s least appreciated players.
None of these guys should even flirt with awards contention, but each quietly put together a great season. This is the All-Underrated Team.
Josh Manson, Anaheim Ducks
Manson isn’t yet a huge-minute defenseman, but he deserves to be. His 18 or so minutes per game weren’t insulated, as he typically toiled within Anaheim’s top four and faced above average, albeit not elite, competition. His 218 hits rank him seventh among NHL blueliners, and his Corsi mark relative to his teammates places him top-10 among defensemen with 500 or more minutes played. He also ranks top-10 in Corsi Against per 60. Manson has developed into a top-notch shutdown guy. He warrants more minutes. The Ducks are loaded with good young defensemen, so Manson would be an ideal trade target for a team looking to play him a lot more.
Jaccob Slavin, Carolina Hurricanes
At 22, he’s already surpassed Justin Faulk as the Canes’ leader in time on ice. Has Slavin also jumped Noah Hanifin in the franchise’s overall pecking order? There’s a case to be made. Slavin has displayed some nice puck-moving ability, amassing 33 points, and he and partner Brett Pesce rate as an excellent defensive pair, ranking top-20 in Corsi Against per 60 among D-men with 500 or more minutes. Despite playing so much and playing quality defense, Slavin only has 12 penalty minutes this season. He deserves Lady Byng Trophy consideration, but the award has only gone to one D-man in the past 61 seasons, so the odds are against Slavin.
Viktor Arvidsson, Nashville Predators
Regular NHLers whose teams generate more shot attempts than Arvidsson when they’re on the ice: Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. End of list. Arvidsson has been an offensive monster for the Preds this season as part of a beastly top line with Ryan Johansen and Filip Forsberg. Arvidsson doesn’t even rank among the league’s top 50 forwards in offensive zone start percentage, either, so it’s not like he’s being gifted opportunities. He creates them himself and has 29 goals on the year. He and Forsberg are five away from setting a new single-season Predators record, though they’ll probably run out of games.
Anthony Mantha, Detroit Red Wings
Mantha narrowly edged out the Panthers’ Jonathan Marchessault to make the list. Marchessault has eight of his goals and 17 of his points on the power play this year. Mantha, toiling on a bad Red Wings team, has 16 of his 17 goals at even strength. He also has one of the best Corsi relative marks in the league. He’s playing at a completely different level than most of his teammates in 2016-17, and the effort has been wasted in a lost season. At least Mantha is delivering on the promise he showed as a prolific scorer in major junior with the QMJHL’s Val-d’or Foreurs. Injury woes held Mantha back when he started his pro career with the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins, but he’s found his stride now. He’s justifying the 20th overall pick Detroit used on him in 2013.
Mathieu Perreault, Winnipeg Jets
Perreault has exploded for seven goals and 21 points in his past 18 games while averaging 17:44 of ice time. Perreault averaged just 15:32 over his first 42 games. When he plays, he produces. For the seventh straight season, he’s a positive Corsi relative player, meaning he’s an above average possession player relative to his teammates. For the season, Perreault ranks 345th in the NHL in ice time, but he’s 133rd in points per 60 minutes among players with 500 or more minutes this season, sandwiched between Sebastian Aho and Mikael Backlund.
Craig Anderson, Ottawa Senators
Among goalies with 1,000 or more minutes, only Vezina Trophy shoo-in Sergei Bobrovsky has a better even strength save percentage than Anderson’s .940. Anderson sits just above Carey Price and Braden Holtby. Anderson is also ninth in low-danger save percentage, eighth in medium-danger save percentage and 15th in high-danger save percentage. He’s only appeared in 35 games to this point because he’s taken time off to support his wife in her battle with cancer, but Anderson is stellar when he does suit up. He faces 31.7 shots per 60 minutes this season.
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.