With so much talent in the NHL today there are players on every team who often get overlooked and don’t get the credit they deserve.
Some of these players may be overshadowed by other stars; meanwhile, some of them may make contributions that don’t translate onto the score sheet.
For whatever reason, these players often fall under the radar. Let’s take a look at five of the most underrated NHL players in the Western Conference.
Anaheim Ducks- Josh Manson
With several high-end talents occupying the Anaheim Ducks’ blue line including Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, and Sami Vatanen… Josh Manson is often overlooked.
Manson is more of a stay-at-home defender who doesn’t put up a lot of points (five goals, 17 points in 2016/17). Perhaps his defensive-minded style of play is a reason he is often regarded as the team’s fourth best defenseman.
The son of former NHL defenseman Dave Manson is an intimidating force at the back for Anaheim. At 6’3” and 213lbs, he is a handful to play against and has dished out physical punishment time and time again.
If you have time to watch him play, you will see how much of a difference he makes, especially from a physical standpoint.
The 25-year-old is a legitimate shutdown defender who keeps his opponents in check and adds a lot of sandpaper to his team’s blueline. He is one of the toughest young defensemen to play against in the NHL and is also one of the more devastating young open-ice hitters in the game right now.
Arizona Coyotes – Tobias Rieder
When you think about the Arizona Coyotes and their stockpile of young talent, names like Max Domi, Christian Dvorak, and Clayton Keller usually come to mind.
As a result, Tobias Rieder is rarely mentioned and often one of the most overlooked players in the desert.
Originally a fourth-round pick of the Edmonton Oilers, Rieder was acquired in a lopsided deal that sent Kale Kessy the other way. Since then, Rieder has gradually worked his way to the NHL to solidify a full-time spot in the desert.
As his overall play steadily improved, his production followed. Rieder has impressively increased his goal totals for three consecutive seasons and is on the brink of becoming a 20-goal scorer.
The German is one of the better defensive forwards in Arizona and is an excellent penalty killer.
It’s kind of ironic to see him do this to the team that drafted him but never gave him a chance:
Despite being undersized at 5’11” and 185lbs, Rieder makes up for it with his blazing speed, excellent hands, and superb hockey IQ.
Rieder, a member of Team Europe in last year’s World Cup, is a versatile player who can be used pretty much anywhere in your lineup.
Aside from all the high-end talent, The 24-year-old might be one of the most underrated and important players for Coyotes going forward.
Calgary Flames- Mikael Backlund
Mikael Backlund took time to develop at the NHL level but he has gradually become an important part of the Calgary Flames’ offense.
He is a solid number-two center behind Sean Monahan in Calgary.
Backlund’s excellent two-way play is a key part of his game that makes him a crucial part of the Flames.
In the past few seasons, we have seen the Swede significantly pick up his game offensively. He has achieved back-to-back 20 goal seasons and had a career year last season, scoring 22 goals and 53 points in 81 games.
Alongside Michael Frolik and Matthew Tkachuk, Backlund is part of the “3M line” that has given Calgary one of the most well rounded second-lines in the NHL. Going forward this line’s ability to grow will play a huge role in the Flames’ aspirations to win a Stanley Cup.
Finally, just this past season, Backlund received Selke Trophy votes for the first time in his NHL career and looks be a candidate to win the award soon.
The Flames are only paying Backlund $3,575,000 per year. Not bad for a 50 point, two-way center responsible in all zones of the ice.
Edmonton Oilers – Kris Russell
Few of you may know that Kris Russell led the NHL in total blocks with 213 last season and averaged the most blocks per game at 3.1
In fact, the Edmonton Oilers’ defenseman has finished in the top-three in total blocks for the past four NHL seasons dating back to the 2013/14 season.
Even though shot blocking is one of the most neglected skills in the game, any NHL goalie would admit that it plays a key role in their success.
To put things into perspective, if your defense allows your goalie to make 213 fewer saves in an 82-game season, or 3.1 saves less per game, it makes a huge difference in helping him stay fresh for the grind of the playoffs.
On top of that, Russell is more than just a shot blocker. He is a very reliable-stay at home defenseman with superb skating ability.
Although he is undersized at 5’10” and 173lbs, he plays a lot bigger than his size. His skating ability allows him to cover a lot of ice and be sound positionally almost all the time.
The 30-year-old doesn’t shy away from physical play and can occasionally surprise opponents with some heavy open ice hits.
Many people make unfair judgments on Russell based on his size and don’t realize that he can be a very effective top-four defenseman on an NHL team.
If they watch him play closely, they will notice how much of a positive impact he has on the game. In that, they may better understand why the Oilers gave him a four-year $16 million contract extension this summer.
Edmonton Oilers – Mark Letestu
When most people think of the Edmonton Oilers, they only really notice Connor McDavid and maybe Leon Draisaitl. If they look closer, they may also notice Milan Lucic, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Aside from those names, few will notice or talk about Mark Letestu.
He is not the biggest guy at 5’10” and 197lbs and he plays on the fourth line, averaging around 14 minutes per night.
Edmonton count on him to win faceoffs and his abilities to kill penalties.
As a result, much of what he does on the ice rarely gets translated onto the score sheet, making the undrafted forward a forgotten man on a young exuberant Oilers team.
In any case, we saw Letestu become a very important player for the Central Alberta franchise on offense last season. He was put on the team’s first power-play unit and scored 11 power play goals.
That put him sixth in the NHL, in the same category as players like Tyler Seguin and Evgeni Malkin.
He also finished fourth in the league in shorthanded points.
That is rather impressive for a fourth-line player who gets limited minutes.
Expect Letestu to continue to score more big goals for the Oilers on the power play this coming season.
Out of the list of five underrated NHL players, who gets your vote? Let us know in the comments section below and be sure to cast your vote in the poll.
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