Justin Schultz, Paul Byron, Viktor Arvidsson among this season's most underrated players
Who is the most underrated player this season?
Scott Burnside: How about Justin Schultz of the Pittsburgh Penguins? The 26-year-old wasn't even a regular member of the defensive rotation a year ago after coming over in a very underappreciated deadline deal with the Edmonton Oilers. But by the end of the Pens' Stanley Cup run, Schultz was a regular contributor and had helped keep the group afloat when Trevor Daley was injured early in the conference finals. This season, Schultz has fulfilled the promise he had when he was a top collegiate player at the University of Wisconsin. With the Penguins once again beset by injuries along the blue line, Schultz has averaged almost 20 minutes a game and is tied for fifth among all defensemen with 47 points. He has regained his confidence and become an integral part of a very good team looking to become the first repeat Stanley Cup champions since 1998. He's also in line for a nice payday as a restricted free agent after signing a one-year deal with the Pens last summer.
Pierre LeBrun: Paul Byron has won this title in a landslide this season. Claimed off waivers in the fall of 2015 from the Calgary Flames, the speedster scored his 20th goal of the season Sunday night as the Montreal Canadiens beat the Ottawa Senators and swept a critical home-and-home series against their rivals. Byron's unbelievable speed is a major weapon, especially on the penalty kill, where he becomes a scoring threat. Habs GM Marc Bergevin doubled down on his free acquisition last season, signing him to a bargain deal: three years at a $1.167 million salary. My goodness.
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Corey Pronman: Viktor Arvidsson and Vincent Trocheck are two names that come to mind right away. Trocheck has averaged 21 minutes a game down the middle for the Florida Panthers, while pushing play forward and generating a ton of shots. He's quick, skilled and plays hard at both ends of the ice. Longtime readers of mine are no strangers to the Nashville Predators' Arvidsson, but he's not a household name and yet he's one of the most dynamic wingers in the NHL. He's got big-time skill, a big shot and all he has done anywhere he has gone for the past five years is put up impressive numbers.
Joe McDonald: Without the play of goalie Tuukka Rask, the Boston Bruins would not be in the playoff picture. The backup goalie position has basically been nonexistent for the Bruins this season, forcing Rask to carry the workload. I wouldn't describe his performance as underrated because he is one of the best netminders in the league, but maybe unappreciated for the way he has played. His name should be mentioned in the Vezina discussion for his 33-27-4 record, along with a 2.25 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage in 56 games. The Bruins have 11 games remaining and if they secure a postseason berth, they'll have Rask to thank for the accomplishment.
Craig Custance: I think it's Hurricanes defenseman Jaccob Slavin. At 22 years old, he's already established himself as a 30-point defenseman and that number is going to grow. He was next in line to get a spot on Team North America before this season and if they were renaming the team today, I bet they would find a way to get him on the roster. Once Carolina gets all the pieces in place and makes the jump to a playoff team, he'll start to get the attention he deserves. This has been Justin Faulk's defense the last couple seasons and Slavin is pushing him as Carolina's best.
Rob Vollman: A few weeks ago I put together an all-underrated team of active players of Tobias Rieder, Mikael Backlund and Jakob Silfverberg up front, with Jaccob Slavin and Calvin de Haan on defense, and Cory Schneider in net. After that, I heard many other good suggestions, including Sean Couturier, Arvidsson, Mikael Granlund, Bo Horvat, Robin Lehner and Nazem Kadri. Because there are just too many options, I'm going to break the rules and choose a coach instead: Bruce Boudreau. The value of the coaching staff is often overlooked, and Boudreau stands out in particular for transforming several key players and making the Minnesota Wild instant contenders -- just as he has done repeatedly in the past with several teams in several leagues.